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Published on May 21st, 2019 | by Jonny Tiernan


Environmental Issues Top Upcoming European Election Agenda

May 21st, 2019 by  

In Germany, climate change issues are finally taking center stage in the political arena, and the results of the upcoming European elections could set the tone for the future. A poll by broadcaster ARD has shown that 48% of Germans listed climate change as the issue that was most important to them in regards to the upcoming election. If voters want to see political parties tackle the climate crisis effectively, and they use their votes to push this agenda, then the ramifications can be far-reaching both for Germany and the rest of the world.

Car production is the backbone of the German economy. It employs some 820,000 people and accounts for 20% of the country’s industrial output. To effectively tackle climate change, there needs to be a drastic uptake in electric vehicles. The major companies are shifting to electric cars, but the progress is slower than many climate activists and experts would like. If the political will results in stricter targets on emissions, and the incumbent car companies don’t shift fast enough, then they could be in a position where they produce and sell fewer cars, which will lead to job cuts and a contraction of the economy.

Job losses and a shrinking economy sounds bad. It is just one example of how a more politically forceful, and by all accounts necessary, approach to tackling climate change could result in job losses. Phasing out coal and other forms of fossil fuel-based power plants will result in fewer people being employed in these industries. This is the type of argument that those opposed to climate change legislation enact, they say ‘We can’t do it, people will lose their jobs and the economy will crash’. Setting aside the fact that the survival of life on earth is more important than any other factor, this argument just doesn’t stand up to the facts.

Of all the misunderstandings surrounding the transition away from fossil fuels to renewables, the idea that the process is an economic danger and will result in a loss of jobs is one that should be put to bed once and for all. The Energiewende is not only of great environmental benefit, but it is also a source of jobs and economic growth.

The evidence for the economic benefits of renewables can be seen in the larger developed countries as well as in emerging economies. In Germany, the origin and arguably biggest driving force of the Energiewende, there are more people employed in the renewables sector than there are employed in the fossil fuels sector. In 2016, there were 338,600 people employed in Germany in the renewables sector, encompassing wind energy, biomass, solar energy, geothermal energy, and hydropower. In 2004, the number of people employed in these sectors in Germany was just 160,000, meaning the number has more than doubled in just over a decade. This is in contrast to the figures for the fossil fuel industries, where the number of people employed in this sector in Germany has declined from 215,000 in 2000 to just 100,000 in 2017.

And this is not a trend that is confined to Germany, as in the rural midwest of the United States clean energy jobs now outnumber fossil fuel jobs by 1.5 to 1. According to a report by the Environmental Defense Fund, there are four million people employed across the US in clean power, clean transport and energy efficiency. These figures clearly show that renewables generate jobs as well as clean energy.

The gains outweigh the losses

Of course, as the world transitions away from fossil fuels there will be inevitable job losses within this industry, but with the right approach these losses can be offset by the gains in renewables and with foresight those people who will be affected can be retrained or apply their skills to the renewables sector. In The US, in those areas where coal was an integral part of the local industry and workforce, various initiatives are put in place to tackle the problems. These can include offering retraining programs, or new companies like Toyota opening factories in those areas. There is no magic bullet solution, but by ensuring attention is paid to these communities and steps are taken, then we can avoid leaving anyone behind.

For African countries, the economic benefits of renewable energy, in particular solar power, are multitudinous. Currently, one in three people living in Africa lack access to electricity. In the first instance, the installation of solar power and the development of new solar power plants creates new jobs that simply did not exist before and that are not present in the fossil fuel industries. As more people gain access to electricity, improvements in business, health, and education follow. This has far-reaching economic implications and real, tangible positive effects on people’s lives.

If we are to meet the targets of the Paris Agreement, every country in the world needs to fully embrace the Energiewende, and the truth is that the benefits will go beyond the essential environmental impact. Committing to the transition means improving the energy efficiency of buildings, of transportation, of recycling, of manufacturing, of agriculture – the list is endless. It’s about pushing everything in the right direction, and in the process new jobs will continue to be created. The end of fossil fuels does not mean the end of prosperity and the end of work, it means a better shared future for both people and the planet. In this upcoming European election, it be might Germany that takes the next step. 

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About the Author

Jonny Tiernan is a Publisher and Editor-In-Chief based in Berlin. A regular contributor to The Beam and CleanTechnica, he primarily covers topics related to the impact of new technology on our carbon-free future, plus broader environmental issues. Jonny also publishes the Berlin cultural magazine LOLA as well as managing the creative production for Next Generation Living Magazine.

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