Climate action must protect economy and society, say Germany and Poland

As officials meet for talks in Berlin, Europe’s biggest coal states call for a ‘just transition’ from fossil fuels

Insulating buildings creates jobs (Pic: Flickr/Jack Amick)


Europe’s biggest coal states pushed for climate action that protects workers and the economy, at informal talks in Berlin on Monday.

For the first time, a top trades union representative was invited to address the Petersberg Climate Dialogue, an annual meeting of 30-35 climate officials from around the world.

Co-hosts Germany and Poland stressed the importance of keeping public support for the shift to a carbon neutral society.

“We want climate action which is not a wrecking ball but can be safe for the future and good for the economy,” said German environment minister Svenja Schulze at a press conference, adding in her speech to delegates: “Very few people elect their governments for promising particularly ambitious climate policy… we need strong economies.”

Acknowledging Germany will most likely miss its 2020 emissions reduction target, Schulze promoted the recently launched coal phase-out commission as a way to restore its international reputation.

“Nobody can afford to squander the trust that allowed us to get an agreement in Paris,” she said. “Germany’s goal has always been to be a pioneer in climate policy… I will work very hard to attain this goal.”

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Michał Kurtyka, president-elect of the Cop24 UN climate talks in Katowice, Poland, this December welcomed the focus on social justice.

“In the time of major changes it is our duty to guide our people through a just transition of our societies and economies,” he said. “Solidarity is an important value for Poles and I would like it to be a strong value for Cop24.”

Germany and Poland are the EU’s biggest consumers of coal, which has shaped the cultural identity and economies of mining regions. Trade unions and industry groups are typically resistant to mine and power station closures.

Eventually, Schulze noted, countries like South Africa and India will also have to shift away from the polluting fuel to meet international climate goals.

Samantha Smith of the International Trade Union Confederation’s Just Transition Centre said with appropriate consultation and engagement, ambitious climate action can get workers’ support.

“[Climate policy] needs to be accompanied by making new jobs and economic growth, otherwise it risks losing the support of communities and workers,” she said.

She cited Alberta, Canada, which is using revenue from a carbon tax to secure pensions, unemployment benefits and structural investment in the phase-out of coal power by 2030.

In New York State, there is a plan to actively create climate-friendly jobs through energy efficiency and offshore windpower targets, she added. “From the perspective of unions, these are all good, skilled jobs which are also about building a New York State with very low emissions.”

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