Net zero requires just, inclusive and radical transformations

Many areas of Europe remain highly dependent on coal and heavy industry. Rapid transition in these regional economies will rely on public buy-in. A central litmus test here will be what happens to people’s jobs, how local economies restructure in response to climate goals, and who decides this.

With the European Commission promising to deliver a Just Transition Fund within its first 100 days (now published and open for feedback here), we report on innovative steps being taken by EIT Climate-KIC through our on-the-ground Deep Demonstrations of the systems transformations needed in all sectors of the economy. 

EIT Climate-KIC’s Just Transformations is one of eight Deep Demonstrations designed to bring fresh thinking and bold experimentation into Europe’s transition. It focuses on the particular challenges and opportunities related to transition in regions of Europe still dependent on coal and heavy industry. In late 2019, we hosted a kick-off workshop with some of the ‘challenge owners’, ‘designers’, and other stakeholders involved in the early stages of this Deep Demonstration initiative.


 

The role of inclusivity in rapid change

“Okay, it’s time for us to dream,” says session coordinator Lavinya Kugaswaran, Project Manager of EIT Climate-KIC’s Deep Demonstration of Just Transformations. A few nervous glances pass amongst the workshop participants, who are all ‘challenge owners’ of Europe’s just transition process. But within minutes, the room is abuzz as delegates—including union reps and business consultants, European policymakers and city mayors, civil society leaders and industry lobbyists—share their visions for a just transition to a decarbonised Europe.

No one attending has any doubt about the urgency of the transition. In his speech to open our Just Transformations workshop, Mathieu Fichter, Policy Officer at the Directorate-General for Regional and Urban Policy, acknowledged the 2050 timeline for Europe’s ambition for carbon neutrality is “like tomorrow” in policy terms.

Nor are there any question marks about the salience of the workshop’s primary themes, which centre squarely on the Commission’s stated priorities for a just transition and the critical role inclusivity and fairness will play in achieving rapid change in economic and industrial models. High on the workshop’s agenda, therefore, is the challenge of reskilling Europe’s workers—a critical issue as carbon-intensive sectors such as coal start being replaced by greener industries.


From the EPRS Briefing: EU support for coal regions:

While EU production and consumption of coal has declined steadily, coal still provides about a quarter of EU power generation. Coal is mined in 12 Member States, and coal-fired power plants operate in 21 Member States. The European coal sector employs 238,000 people in directly linked activities, such as coal mines and power plants. An estimated 160,000 jobs could disappear by 2030. Further job losses are expected in indirect activities along the value chain, e.g. power generation, equipment supply, services, research and development. Impacts of phasing out coal are also likely to be felt in the iron and steel sectors, mining equipment manufacturing and coal terminals.


The timing of the debate adds to the buzz. We’re all aware the new European Commission is putting the final touches to a new financing mechanism to help accelerate the just transition process. Assuming everything goes to plan, the Just Transition Fund will be launched by mid-March 2020 at the latest.

The prospect of feeding into this active policy debate brings an extra edge to the workshop for the 100 or so delegates. As a group, they make for a mixed bunch. EIT Climate-KIC has hand-picked individuals from across Europe’s major geographies and sectors. In recognition of the Commission’s concerns for a just transition process, our aim was to ensure the participation of economic regions that remain disproportionately dependent on coal, heavy industry and other energy-intensive activities—including areas of Poland, Spain, Germany, Romania and the Czech Republic.

 

Enabling wholesale transformation

In the first feedback session, two themes come to light. The first is the extent of the participants’ ambition, imagination and willingness to experiment. Three-day weeks, economic degrowth, mission-led innovation and entrepreneurship, citizens wage, expansion of the waste, recycling and service sectors, curriculum overhaul, citizen assemblies, politicians as “super heroes,” and population control all get a look-in. It’s clear many participants are looking not only for targeted funding to fill a gap, but at strategies for wholesale transformation of their economies.


Echoing this perspective, Wendel Trio, director of Climate Action Network’s (CAN) Europe writes:

“EU leaders rightly consider that climate change requires targeted finance for climate action, particularly in Europe’s most fossil-fuel dependent regions. However, the Just Transition Fund alone will not do the trick. The entire EU budget has the potential to catalyse the transformation needed in all sectors of the economy. And the EU funds going to the regions are well designed to deliver such support, only if Member States set their priorities accordingly.”  From: Just Transition funding needs to support real transitions, CAN website


The second revelation is the sense of uncertainty about the policy paths ahead, and the recognition that more of the same will not deliver the outcomes we need. What should the roadmap look like? What principles and thinking should govern its design? How do we ensure the voices of citizens, workers and youth are at the core of regional economic transformation? How can we break through siloes that are no longer useful? How can we achieve much more rapid change? What would transformation look like?

 

Deep Demonstrations as a route to systemic change

It is precisely these critical, framing questions, and need for fresh thinking and controlled experimentation, that led to EIT Climate-KIC’s new, breakthrough programme of Deep Demonstrations to accelerate Europe’s just transition to a zero carbon society.

At the heart of our systems innovation initiative is the realisation current approaches to cutting emissions won’t get us to where we need to be in the time available to us. A more radical shift is required, based not on incremental change but on the participatory redesign of entire systems.

Our aim with Deep Demonstrations is to achieve rapid and just transformations in specific places and sectors, using diverse and deliberate portfolios of mission-led innovation experiments that work together to harness the interacting forces of education, technology, citizen engagement, regulation, finance, the creative arts and other levers of change.

As well as Just Transformations, our Deep Demonstrations concentrate on seven other themes. In every case, we start by working with challenge owners including national or city governments, sector leaders or CEOs of major companies—to build demand and high-level buy-in for a systemic approach to radical transformation, and to shape a specific vision and statement of intent. Then we introduce a diverse set of ‘designers’ to help map the system we want to impact and to identify leverage points for rapid systemic change. The third and fourth components involve building a portfolio of on-the-ground projects and programmes (matching demand with supply), and creating actionable intelligence and learnings.

 

Re-industrialisation as a spur to inclusive prosperity

Consider re-industrialisation. Many areas of Europe remain highly dependent on coal and heavy industry. Finding out which combinations of the many potential levers to pull to effect change is not easy. Could the promise of clearer air or greener more future-proof jobs persuade workers in Poland to move away from coal, for example, if combined with other incentives like a citizens’ wage? What financial or fiscal incentives might push gas-fired power producers in Bulgaria to embrace renewables?

One of our workshop participants, Piotr Maslowski, provides a case in point. Deputy Mayor of Rybnik, a coal-dependent city in Poland’s Silesia region, Maslowski is working on an initiative to shift the local economy onto a cleaner footing.

It is an uphill task, he concedes. With unemployment at a mere three per cent and many coal-workers reliant on subsidised coal to heat their homes in the winter, ‘coal is king’ at present. “Under Communism, miners were treated like VIPs,” he says. “Now, it is difficult trying to convince them that they are not heroes.” The name given to his transition initiative—Rybnik360—reveals the magnitude of the turnaround required.

Yet Maslowski and his fellow attendees are not without hope of discovering answers, precisely because of their willingness to explore a whole systems approach. An approach designed to value the true costs of climate change, and the social, economic and ecological benefits of multi-solving for clean air, healthy liveable cities, engaged rural communities and many other co-benefits, through systems-literate investment.

While our Deep Demonstration of Just Transformations might still be in its early stages, other EIT Climate-KIC Deep Demonstrations in more advanced stages provide lessons, precedents and reasons for hope. For example, late last year the Slovenian Government adopted an EIT Climate-KIC-led proposal for a Deep Demonstration of a Circular, Regenerative and Low-carbon Economy in Slovenia—the outcome of an 18-month engagement and design process.

The country has now committed to transition to a fully circular national economy and their plan centres around building a joined-up portfolio of diverse innovations to drive circularity in five main areas:

  • Forestry
  • Built environment
  • Manufacturing
  • Food
  • Mobility

Embracing new approaches is critical. For example, to achieve climate impact, traditional models of funding and politics need to change. In this respect, Slovenia is embarking on an incredibly bold experiment, connecting ministries and funding to break down siloes, and to capitalise on the benefits of circularity.

 

Expanding buy-in for climate policy

Jobs will be lost in heavy industry as these sectors make way for less polluting alternatives. Naturally, workers and regions most affected by transition are worried about the uncertainty ahead. Hence, the repeated mantra of the European Commission that “no region should be left behind.” As with all such dictums, the wording is uplifting and the intent clear. Yet the devil is in the delivery.

The takeaway lesson from our workshop participants was clear: Rapid systemic change at scale relies on public buy-in.

EIT Climate-KIC’s Deep Demonstration model provides a framework for citizens to participate fully in the process—from the outset. Involving the public at the end (as is common) or even at an interim stage is a recipe for disengagement.

 

Deep listening: Standing in the shoes of others

How citizens are included is as important as when they are included. That’s the message of Ione Ardaiz, Social Innovator at the Agirre Lehendakaria Centre in Mondragón, Spain.

As a design partner in EIT Climate-KIC’s Deep Demonstration of Just Transformations, the Agirre Lehendakaria Centre has been developing an innovative approach to public participation based on full transparency (all proceedings are uploaded to an open, online platform) and ‘deep listening.’

The end goal, Ardaiz explains, is to identify prototype solutions that respond to the specific aspirations, challenges and needs of the Mondragón region. “For this reason,” she says, “we are spending time talking to people and observing dialogues. We are gathering the narratives that are operating in our community and facilitating collective interpretations together with those who are sharing their stories. This is the starting point to a just transition in our valley.”

Marian Cramers is equally emphatic about the critical role of inclusive participation in systemic change. As Director of Development at The Democratic Society, she speaks from direct experience. A UK-based non-profit organisation, The Democratic Society specialises in promoting innovative citizen dialogue processes. Past projects range from promoting civic activism in Northern Ireland to designing digital tools for participatory budgeting in Scotland.

If the transition to a decarbonised Europe is to be genuinely ‘just’, then giving citizens a meaningful place at the decision-making table is an absolute prerequisite, she argues. Justice comes from “co-designing solutions” with citizens, as well “really understanding” both their hesitations about change and their ideas are for overcoming these, she adds.

Equally imperative is the need to make sure justice is “felt and perceived”, continues Cramers. “The lack of this will otherwise become an obstacle to any climate measure that is more than symbolic—and we really want this to succeed.” 

 

Decisions that will determine success and failure are happening now

 As our participants head back to their constituencies to begin framing their respective pathways forward in different affected regions, civic engagement is at the top of their minds.

They are going back to Silesia in Poland, Mondragon in Spain and Emilia Romagna in Italy.

The framework set in place by EIT Climate KIC’s Deep Demonstrations will provide participants with an invaluable community and feedback loop.

Helen Spence-Jackson, EIT Climate KIC’s Head of EU affairs, who teed up the workshop with a context-setting speech, said: “A greener economy will present new and additional employment opportunities in the low-carbon industries that emerge, for many. But for climate policy to be successful, social acceptability is indispensable. The innovation we need right now is systems innovation, and that includes finding novel ways to expand social acceptability beyond the usual suspects.”

The EU’s ultimate target for a Just Transition may be far out in 2050, but the decisions that will determine success and failure are being taken now. Early involvement of all stakeholders is vital. 

 
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