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Trade union leaders call for energy transition jobs ‘in same region’ as fossil fuel jobs

The Berlin-based Hertie School says the number of clean energy jobs in the EU is ‘rapidly growing’ but they are primarily concentrated in countries that have seen significant growth in their wind, solar and electric heat pump industries © Philippe Huguen/AFP via Getty Images
The Berlin-based Hertie School says the number of clean energy jobs in the EU is ‘rapidly growing’ but they are primarily concentrated in countries that have seen significant growth in their wind, solar and electric heat pump industries © Philippe Huguen/AFP via Getty Images

Countries with the highest levels of renewables are reaping the rewards with the most clean energy jobs

International trade union leaders have called on energy transition policymakers to offer new jobs in the same communities and at the same time as jobs are being lost from the fossil fuel industry. 

Meeting in Paris on April 26 for the International Energy Agency’s Global Summit on People-centred Energy Transitions, international labour leaders warned that while the energy transition is set to increase new jobs at a faster rate than jobs are lost from the fossil fuel industry, these will not occur in the same regions.

The IEA’s net zero emissions by 2050 scenario, which outlines how the energy sector should transform to limit global warming to 1.5C above pre-industrial levels, predicts that 30mn new clean energy jobs will be created by 2030. Meanwhile, close to 13mn jobs in fossil fuel-related industries are at risk, equalling two clean energy jobs created for every fossil fuel-related job lost. 

But “these are not the same people”, said IEA executive director Fatih Birol during the Paris meeting, insisting that the regions in which clean energy jobs are being created are not the same as those where fossil-fuel jobs are being lost. 

“New jobs should be created in the same regions with finance that is timely,” said Plamen Dimitrov, president of the Confederation of Independent Trade Unions of Bulgaria, during the meeting. 

Bulgaria has clashed with the European Commission over its climate targets, with former energy minister Temenuzhka Petkova arguing that efforts to reduce emissions from the EU’s energy sector by 40 per cent from 2019 levels by the end of 2025 could threaten the country’s energy security by requiring the closure of some of its coal-fired power plants. Bulgaria has also seen demonstrations from coal miners urging lawmakers to protect jobs. The commission has urged the country to “reduce reliance on fossil fuels” and to leverage European funds for “green skills and jobs”.

In Paris, Chilean energy minister Diego Pardow also underlined the knock-on effects of job losses for those in “indirect employment” in fossil fuel-producing regions. Owners of small and medium-sized enterprises or those working in the hospitality sector will also be affected unless new jobs are created “in the same places, at the same time”, he said.

Policies to ‘reskill’ workers

Birol underlined the need to “reskill” individuals working in the fossil fuel industry to allow them to switch more easily to jobs in the clean energy sector. 

But Sharan Burrow, co-chair of the IEA’s clean energy labour council, said implementation of reskilling programmes was “lacking”.

Ludovic Voet, confederal secretary of the European Trade Union Confederation, added that European policymakers were yet to put the “social mitigation aspect of climate policy . . . on the table”.

The green transition will create around 1mn jobs in the EU by 2030 (equalling 0.5 per cent of current employment) and 2 mn jobs by 2050, forecasts a 2022 commission paper, though it adds that “the impact will vary across countries and sectors”.

A December 2023 policy briefing by Berlin-based research institute the Hertie School, says the number of clean energy jobs in the EU is “rapidly growing”, but they are primarily concentrated in countries that have seen significant growth in their wind, solar and electric heat pump industries.

Analysis by energy transition think-tank Ember shows that northern and western European countries dominate on renewables installation, with Denmark, Ireland and Portugal generating the largest shares of their electricity from wind in the EU in 2023 — 58 per cent, 36 per cent and 30 per cent, respectively.

However, central and eastern European countries are lagging behind and often remaining largely dependent on coal for a significant share of their energy mix. Ember estimates they have 100 gigawatts of potential offshore wind capacity that could be developed. 

A service from the Financial Times