The Road Towards a Carbon Free Society

A Nordic-German Trade Union Cooperation on Just Transition

In Cooperation with:

About this project

This project, “The Road Towards a Carbon Free Society A Nordic-German Trade Union Cooperation on Just Transition”, is a collaboration between the Council of Nordic Trade Unions (NFS), the Friedrich-Ebert Stiftung (FES) and the German Trade Union Confederation (DGB).

Represented by the Council of Nordic Trade Unions (NFS) in the project are 13 national Trade Union Confederations within NFS, from five Nordic Countries:
Denmark (FH, Akademikerne), Finland (SAK, STTK), Iceland (ASÍ, BSRB, BHM), Norway (LO-N, Unio, YS) and Sweden (LO-S, TCO, Saco).

About the reports

A total of six country reports on the Just Transition path of the participating countries (Denmark, Finland, Germany, Iceland, Norway, and Sweden) have been formulated.

Each contains an analysis of the climate policies, economic and societal consequences, an evaluation of the respective national instruments and offers European perspectives.

The main findings of the country reports are brought together in a synthesis. It features policy recommendations that aim to help guide the transition to a decarbonised society and an economy that is just and sustainable. The reports and their results are presented and discussed in a series of events nationally as well as in terms of Nordic and European cooperation and at the international level.


Philipp Fink

Director of the FES Office for the Nordic Countries




Frederik Moch

Director Structural Policy, Industry and Services at DGB




Magnus Gissler

General Secretary of NFS

















A Just Transition towards a carbon neutral future is the most urgent environmental, social and economic issue of our times. This project aims to develop strategies and requirements from a trade union perspective on how to manage the process to a carbon free society.

The participating labour organisations are united in their vision that this goal can only be reached if the social costs of this transition process are socially mitigated.

This means harmonising efforts to combat climate change with the aim of ensuring decent working and living conditions.

To this end, the participating labour organisations have not only analysed their respective countries’ transition path towards a fossil free future but have also formulated joint policy recommendations for the national and European arenas, jointly adopted by the NFS and the DGB in November and December 2020.

The ensuing discussions and debate have strengthened the cooperation and dialogue between the Nordic and the German trade union movements on common challenges and solutions.


Policy recommendations

Implement the Paris Agreement

The Guidelines for Just Transition by ILO and the principles of the Paris Agreement are based on the ILO Decent Work Agenda. They must be integrated into EU and national climate laws.

Decent work means thus, that job creation, rights at work, social protection and social dialogue must be considered when climate policies are devised. This also resonates in the slogan attributed to the European Green Deal “Leaving no one behind”. 

Politicians and policymakers must therefore take a holistic approach that puts workers at the centre of climate policy and structural change. All policies for climate action and adaptation must be in line with the ILO Decent Work Agenda.

When it comes to the implementation of climate targets, they need to be paired not only with energy and climate policies. Specific economic, education, labour market, gender and sectoral policies are also needed to create a beneficial framework for the upcoming transition.

Involve trade unions as key players in structural change

Wherever structural change happens, workers are affected. Trade unions therefore must be involved in the preparation, monitoring and updating of national, sectoral and regional energy and climate plans and policies.

This also holds true for financial instruments to support structural and climate change, as well as the impact of climate policy on employment and the need for new skills.

The involvement of trade unions therefore must be facilitated by the states themselves as well as by the EU, the UNFCC, the ILO and by regional cooperations such as the Nordic Council of Ministers.

Make the transition work with education, training and a better work environment

Education, vocational training and lifelong learning are essential to master the transition. New knowledge, competencies and skills – whether they are going to be provided by employers or public systems – are key, both to prepare employees for new tasks and jobs as well as to create an innovative and sustainable workspace. Climate policies have to be linked with employment and re-skilling analyses as well as specific measures to successfully steer the transition.

The shift to green jobs in new sectors as well as in today’s economy is central. Importantly, green jobs also need to be decent jobs. A decent job is productive, delivers a fair income, provides social protection and freedom for people to express their opinions and organise, and it assures equal opportunities and fair treatment for all.

Workers are the ones who recognise and experience risks in their work environment. This knowledge is collected through trade unions. It is important that this knowledge is considered while shaping new legislation, but also at every workplace. We know that the transition will create millions of new jobs across Europe, but also that these new jobs will create new risks for workers. New jobs must therefore be good and safe jobs. Occupational health and safety measures must be a part of all future legislation

Reduce insecurity of structural change through social protection

Social protection worthy of its name is crucial to protect employees and their families in the transition from one job to another.

Giving people income and job security facilitates the transition, since structural change evokes insecurity that can trigger rejection of change and innovation. Decent work for everyone must be a European and national benchmark.

Invest in the future of economy and people

Climate neutrality requires major investments. These will pay off and help to protect the planet, the economy and people. Many green technologies have export potential. They will stimulate growth and create green, decent jobs. When private investments fall short the state has to proactively shape the transition by investing in the future of economy and people. Investments therefore does not only have an economical but also a social dimension (e.g. social protection, re-skilling).

This also holds true on the European level. Financial instruments – such as mechanisms, funds, etc. – must focus on workers directly and indirectly affected by the social and ecological transition. Key is that their resources focus on social protection and promote employment, re-skilling, vocational training and workers participation in the transition.

Trade union should be represented at all stages of these projects. Existing measures should be evaluated in the perspective of a Just Transition. European rules need to be in line with Just Transition investments on the national level.

Create a level playing field that facilitates and incites green investments

Measures put in place to create incentives for technological change must be durable and provide clear rules for the state of play in different sectors, so employers and companies can plan for investments in technology and in up- and reskilling of their workers.

A level playing field must be developed so that companies and industries are not shut down, only to be opened elsewhere in the world where regulations and climate policies are too weak – thus leading to carbon leakage.

Create knowledge for innovation and Just Transition

Several relevant issues will arise on the path to climate neutrality that pose a challenge to all nation states as well as the EU. The need for further research concerns several possible technologies that together can contribute to resolve the challenges ahead. Research and development on new technologies that help our societies reach the climate goals in a socially acceptable way must therefore be intensified.

Real change is implemented by the workers on the ground. Further research that connects climate policies to the effects it has on sectors, regions and on labour markets in general and more particularly on the worker are urgently needed. Research is also needed on gender and the indirect effects of the social and ecological transition. It will help create knowledge about the processes of a Just Transition.

Grow stronger through collaboration

A collaboration between the Nordic countries and Germany on Just Transition would help all of the countries reach their climate targets.

These countries share common challenges with regard to climate neutrality. They share many of the same possibilities in new approaches to zero-carbon innovations and technical development of energy sources.

They all have the right conditions to do so through their social models, their technological expertise and their ambition to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, as well as a high degree of worker organisation and strong trade unions, and the tradition for social dialogue.

They should aim to become Just Transition frontrunners and together push for the above-mentioned recommendations, nationally, in Europe and on the international stage.

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