A ‘’Just Transition” can benefit people as well as the planet

By Finn Pierau

The fifth in a series of articles titled 'the voice of young people',  from the opinion formers of the future.  

On the 21st of April 2021, the EU officially adopted “an ambitious and comprehensive package of measures” to help investors to channel money directly into sustainable activities. Crucially, after months of heated debates, the publication omits the classification of nuclear and gas energy, and postpones the decision whether or not these energies warrant investment as part of the Green New Deal. The issue around financing the transition to renewable energy in Europe was never going to be easy and this article is not going to suggest the opposite. Instead, I am aiming to emphasise the fundamental spirit at the heart of the Green New Deal, that of a just transition to a sustainable economy.

The EU’s package establishes the EU Taxonomy, which is a “robust and science-based transparency tool for companies and investors”. In other words, it is the EU’s classification system of which projects and activities can be called sustainable and which cannot. This publication is one of the most important official publications yet on the Green New Deal, as it lays down the basis for sustainable financing in the EU. Countries such as France and Poland, which rely heavily on nuclear and gas energy, are campaigning to include these sources in the taxonomy, resulting in a backlash from Greenpeace due to the uncertainty of nuclear waste disposal and EU vice president Timmermans declaring that “fossil fuels have no viable future”. 

The EU has made it its ambition not only to become the first continent to be carbon neutral, but to do so as a Just Transition that leaves no one and no place behind. As such, decarbonisation only tells part of the story of a sustainable Europe. A sustainable economy should provide jobs that break with the unfulfilling compartmentalisation stemming from the industrial age. Accordingly, the taxonomy could ensure that funds are not simply allocated by environmental standards, but by working standards as well. 

Clearly, when it comes to decarbonisation, renewable energy, be it wind or solar, is preferable to gas, biofuels or nuclear energy. Renewable energies both emit less CO2 than gas and biofuels, and are lower risk than nuclear energy. However, whilst renewable energy might decrease carbon emissions, a massive scaling up of such energy production comes with serious practical problems. Renewable energy production uses up to 10 times more minerals compared to fossil fuel production. Since most of these minerals are mined and imported from abroad, a rapid shift to renewables means the externalisation of environmental problems. 

So I believe that it is sensible to allow countries such as Poland and France to pave their way to a more sustainable future by using gas or nuclear energy as a temporary bridge. After all, using gas instead of coal creates up to 70% less CO2 emissions, and nuclear energy emits only a negligible amount of CO2. Such a bridge may also help to alleviate the environmental stress that an immediate switch to renewable energies might cause. We should not lose too much momentum discussing the ins and outs of which energies are “green”, when we know that the ultimate goal is to achieve zero carbon emissions. The fact that there is such a big hesitation to include gas energy in the taxonomy shows the general atmosphere that gas is not here to stay. We ought to allow the individual communities some freedom to figure out at a local level the best way to create a sustainable Europe. We must focus on maintaining and broadening the momentum of holistic sustainability. This momentum is what will enable us to leave fossil fuels behind. 

Ultimately, decarbonisation is only one part of the story to make the EU’s economy sustainable, and reducing environmental degradation is another. An absolutely crucial feature of the Green New Deal is “to leave no person and no place behind”. This means to incentivise not only clean energy, but moving beyond the unfulfilling compartmentalisation of work, towards opening up and allowing collectives and communities more freedom and investment to create new enterprises and organise their own work. This will enable them to see and feel how their efforts contribute to create a more sustainable Europe. We would finally go beyond mere “consumerism” to acknowledge that purpose and well-being is found not only in consuming, but in producing, too. With this spirit, I believe that there is little danger that countries get stuck on harmful energy production, as countries and people strive to be as sustainable as they can possibly be. 

Published: 7 May 21

Back to news list