Issue Paper under Task 3 of the ‘Service contract on future EU environment policy’

Just transition in the context of EU environmental policy and the European Green Deal

  • Luisa Menzemer
  • Dr. Franziska Wolff
  • Andreea Beznea
  • Rob Williams
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The envisaged sustainability transitions are expected to substantially improve the state of our envi-ronment but also public health and the quality of peoples’ lives. Moreover, many economic sectors depend on ecosystem services and green technologies create new jobs. However, transitions do not happen without trade-offs, conflicts and resistance. In the case of climate and other sustainability transitions, the decline of incumbent firms, e.g. in the oil and coal business, can have negative (re-gional) economic and employment effects. Moreover, if energy or other commodity prices rise, this may disproportionately affect low-income households. Effective and socially acceptable transition governance should take such potentially negative effects seriously and address them.

Following the Commission’s task assignment, this issue paper primarily focuses on potential nega-tive social impacts of environmental (transition) policies – with regard to jobs/workers and regions as well as consumers/households – and ways to mitigate such impacts on a European and national level. Moreover, the paper focuses on intra-EU socioeconomic effects and distributional justice ra-ther than international, procedural or recognitional justice. The whole paper is based on a review of existing research literature and policy documents.

We start by clarifying the term “just transition” and conceptually systematising different positive and negative social (socioeconomic) impacts of environmental transitions and policies. We continue to discuss potential negative impacts in more detail, for both workers and consumers, along different EU environmental policy areas, taking into account the European Green Deal agenda: climate neu-trality & energy policy; circular economy & resource efficiency; biodiversity & land-use; and “zero pollution” (clean air & water, safe chemicals & products). We then go on to categorise and discuss possible policy measures to mitigate these impacts (including some good practice examples from past transitions) before finally formulating recommendations for future EU policy to avoid social in-justice when working towards the transition to an environmentally sustainable Europe.

The main added value of this study is not in the level of detail relating to specific impacts and rec-ommendations, but in its holistic approach raising awareness for environment policy’s social effects among a broad range of areas and actors, with a view to identify possible future work strands.