Several EU initiatives have put green transition high on the agenda: from Fit for 55, which aims to make reaching the EU’s climate goal of reducing EU emissions by at least 55% by 2030 a legal obligation, to the overarching European Green Deal, Europe’s new growth strategy. Implicitly or explicitly, EU strategies require Europe’s population to reskill or upskill in the context of changing labour markets, to be more active in greening their communities, or to make more sustainable choices as consumers. Adult education and lifelong learning can provide the skills and competences that people need when managing change. A policy roundtable organised by EAEA and the Lifelong Learning Platform on 24 May and hosted by the SwissCore in Brussels, brought together civil society representatives active in education and training, who shared their recommendations on how a just green transition can become reality.
According to Åsa Petri, Education Counsellor for the Swedish Presidency to the EU, bolder and more ambitious action is needed to achieve green transition. “One of our main priorities was to look at how we can further skills and competences in the green transition. Green transition requires skills, and this has to be spelled out,” she said, introducing the Council conclusions on skills and competences for the green transition. In a process led by the Swedish Presidency, the Conclusions were approved by the Education, Youth, Culture and Sport Council of the EU on 7 March; while non-binding, the document is connected to the larger EU agenda on green transition.
Petri pointed out that skills and competences for green transition are diverse and go across all disciplines. Current and future skills need to be mapped out, which is an ambitious task that should be shared by the EU and national level. To face change, education and training providers need to explore innovative ways of delivering learning opportunities, and make sure that learning environments include workplaces. That said, she also highlighted the broader role of lifelong learning in changing mindsets. “We need to train people to change, to encourage them to be active in the transition themselves,” she said.
Putting social justice and people at the heart of the transition
According to Theodor Grassos, Secretary General of EVBB, fostering a sustainability mindset is the most important aim of the GreenComp, the European sustainability framework. “It’s not a technical document but an attempt to change attitudes,” he said, adding that the framework includes not only theory but also real-life examples. Organised across four competence areas, ranging from embodying sustainability values to acting for sustainability, the framework can be used by everyone in lifelong learning who aims to develop sustainability competences.
Looking at the new roles of education and training providers, Grassos underlined the need for collaboration between representatives of the sector and policymakers. “There are a lot of ideas around, but we need good partnerships at the national level to make them happen,” he said, giving examples of successful European projects that would benefit from being upscaled: Ecoslight, on environmentally conscious smart lightning, or H2Excellence: Fuel Cells and Green Hydrogen Centres of Vocational Excellence. EVBB has also been active in providing technical support for governments on developing green skills, and has recently signed a Memorandum of Cooperation with the Hellenic General Secretariat for VET.
According to Andrea Casamenti, Policy Officer for Just Transition at Solidar, transition cannot happen without changing society, which requires an intersectional approach. “To be able to change the model that is currently destroying our planet, we need to unite different struggles: against racism and gender inequality, for workers’ and migrants’ rights,” he said. “It is impossible to fight against inequality without addressing the climate crisis and vice versa,” he added, as illustrated by the fact that the 10% of the richest world population pollute as much as 90%.
The European Alliance for Just Transition, initiated by Solidar two years ago, unites 36 organisations that agree on the need to put social justice and people at the heart of the transition. Their Joint Declaration has called on EU institutions, national governments and other authorities to “deliver a just transition to a social and sustainable Europe”. This task, according to Casamenti, is not possible without education. He pointed out that although education is already present in several of the policy initiatives that focus on green transition, many of them only highlight the skills needed for the labour market.
“Education plays a fundamental role in ensuring a just and inclusive transition,” continued Casamenti. “Lifelong learning needs to become the norm,” he emphasised, noting the importance of holistic and community-based approaches that are fostered by lifelong learning. To advance this mission, EAEA is now a member of the Alliance.
Concepts old and new
“Circular economy needs to be powered by people,” said Simone Schirru, Policy Officer for Social and Economic Policies at RREUSE. RREUSE brings together social enterprises specialising in the field of re-use, repair and recycling, with a far-reaching impact. “Social enterprises create jobs for people who traditionally struggle, while at the same addressing the shortage of workers with repair skills,” said Schirru. Schirru gave examples of several organisations in Europe that have fostered positive change in their communities, such as Roscommon Women’s Network in Ireland that runs a textile upcycling programme, or Le Hublot in Namur, Belgium, which offers professional insertion opportunities in repairing household appliances.
“Too often social and green initiatives work in silos. We need to include everyone, including the voices of non-formal education,” he concluded.
Event participants agreed that being oriented towards the future should not mean breaking away with the past. Skills that used to be valued, such as mending one’s clothes, could now regain their importance. “We could reuse the concepts of the past instead of always looking for the glamorous,” reflected EAEA’s Angeliki Giannakopoulou. “It might be cheaper to buy new products now, but it will be more expensive in the long run,” added Alma Shkreli from Albanian Skills.
In her closing words, EAEA Secretary-General Gina Ebner reiterated the need for future collaborations. “We need policies that help with skills forecasts – it’s a huge agenda for us,” she said. Inspired by the diversity of examples discussed by participants, she pointed that transition is only possible if concrete action is made visible. “People will agree to change if they see that it is doable,” she concluded.
Competences for a Green and Just Transition: A Civil Society Roundtable was part of the EAEA activities around the annual theme 2023: adult learning and the green transition.