Everyone in Europe wants green jobs, but…

Europe appears to be in the grip of a rare consensus when it comes to green jobs – unions want them, employers want them, governments want them. But we still appear to be some distance from an effective strategy to turn good intentions into good jobs.

Greening the European economy: Responses and initiatives by Member States and social partners, a new report from the Dublin-based Euro-thinktank Eurofound, examines how the energy, economy and climate change threads are brought together. It says its findings “reflect the extent to which environmental concerns have become a key element of policymaking and illustrate the consensus that exists between trade unions, employers and governments regarding the importance of the ‘green agenda’.”

Eurofound finds that across Europe, “national governments and the social partners are keen to maximise the job creation potential of this new area, and stimulate economic recovery, reduce carbon dioxide emissions as well as develop alternative energy sources.”

But it cautions against talking up the ‘green economy’ as a short-term, quick-fix solution to help countries emerge rapidly from the economic crisis. “Changing Europe’s energy infrastructure, limiting carbon emissions, while simultaneously maintaining competitiveness and ensuring that workers’ skills remain up to date, needs careful, long-term planning,” the research body says.

 Green jobs are already part of Europe’s official economic recovery template. The European Commission’s European Economic Recovery Plan, published in November 2008, recommends investment in green measures to move towards a low-carbon economy, limit climate change, promote energy security and create new ‘green-collar’ jobs.

Eurofound observes that most recovery packages launched at Member State level include a green element. Initiatives run from subsidies for refurbishing insulation and heating systems (Austria, Ireland and Lithuania), the use of tax credits to encourage households to invest in alternative energy and insulation (Belgium), and investment in new technologies, such as carbon capture (Norway and the UK).

Employers and unions, though, diverge on priorities. Eurofound concluded companies see greening industry as more of a compliance and competitiveness issue, often imbuing existing corporate social responsibility initiatives with a slight green tinge. Unions, by contrast, are embarked on a full blown political campaign to press governments and business to embrace an approach that creates green jobs and protects or transforms existing jobs.

One area of agreement is the need to ensure there are suitably trained workers available in sufficient numbers to populate greener workplaces. That won’t happen by chance – it will take changes in policy and practice at every level, from the shopfloor, to the boardroom and beyond.

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