Interview — How to ensure a socially just transition

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Article Published 28 Nov 2022 Last modified 29 Aug 2023
6 min read
Photo: © Francis Kuum, Well with Nature /EEA
The European Green Deal puts emphasis on leaving no one behind, ensuring a just transition, in creating a more modern, resource-efficient and competitive economy. What does a socially just transition mean in practice? We spoke to Jorge Cabrita, research manager at Eurofound.

There are various policies, such as carbon taxes, that may have  positive effects  in terms of reducing greenhouse gas emissions but also have  regressive distributional effects . This means that they tend to hurt low-income households the most, which can create new or exacerbate existing social inequalities...

What is Eurofound’s mission?

The European Foundation for the Improvement of Living and Working Conditions (Eurofound) is a tripartite EU agency, whose role is to provide knowledge to assist in developing better social, employment and work-related policies. Being tripartite means that we bring together representatives of workers, employers and governments.

Eurofound was established in 1975 to contribute to the planning and design of better living and working conditions in Europe. Our new founding regulation took effect in 2019.


What do you personally work on at Eurofound?

I have been with Eurofound since 2009. I am responsible for formulating, coordinating and managing Europe-wide studies, surveys and publications, and for promoting the dissemination of findings through participation in debates, conferences, seminars and workshops in the thematic areas of working conditions and industrial relations.

Among other work, I have been responsible for various activities related to Eurofound’s European Observatory of Working Life, and the long-standing European Working Conditions Survey.

My main research areas include working conditions and job quality, working time and work-life balance, workers’ health and well-being, gender equality, and the workplace. More recently, I have expanded my areas of interest to cover the socio-economic impacts of the transition to a carbon-neutral economy, including the consequences of climate change and climate policies for job quality and sustainable work.


How does Eurofound’s work support a socially just transition?

I would say that providing support to those policymakers and decision-makers who can shape and implement a socially just transition for all is a fundamental cornerstone of Eurofound’s DNA.

Eurofound provides information, advice and expertise on working conditions and sustainable work, industrial relations, labour market changes, quality of life and public services. This is channelled to the EU institutions, Member State governments and the social partners at EU and national levels to assist them in shaping effective and responsive social and employment policies.

In addition, Eurofound’s tripartite character — having a management board composed of representatives of governments, workers and employers (social partners) of all EU Member States — enhances its ability to facilitate and promote social dialogue across the EU on the basis of comparative information, research and analysis. Eurofound will continue to carry out research supporting a better understanding of what a just transition is, what are its main contributing factors and what can be done to achieve it.


What are currently the biggest challenges in achieving a just transition?

The idea of a just transition results from the fact that the changes necessary to achieve the overall goals linked to climate change may not affect all members of our societies equally. A just transition to a carbon-neutral economy implies that the futures and livelihoods of workers, their families and their communities will be secured. It is about the commitment to ensuring that ‘no one is left behind’ during this transition. That, in itself, is a great challenge, but there are many challenges associated with achieving a just transition.


What are some concrete examples?

Eurofound’s research has shown that there are various policies, such as carbon taxes, that may have positive effects in terms of reducing greenhouse gas emissions but also have regressive distributional effects. This means that they tend to hurt low-income households the most, which can create new or exacerbate existing social inequalities and generate ‘antibodies’ to the required policies.

The challenge is in finding win-win social-climate mitigation policy mixes that take account of undesirable social effects. They should reduce social inequalities while also reducing greenhouse gas emissions. Examples are investing in sustainable and more affordable public transport and active mobility, and supporting those less well off in improving the energy efficiency of their homes.

Read more: EEA and Eurofound’s joint briefing ‘Exploring the social challenges of low-carbon energy policies in Europe


A related challenge is to ensure what is called a ‘whole-of-government’ approach, in which the various departments and ministries exchange information on the implementation and impacts of climate policies, searching for complementarities between policies from different perspectives. Our research has shown that the government departments concerned are not always involved in developing national climate plans, and this may result in the kind of undesired effects mentioned earlier. A good articulation between the different departments and alignment of their various perspectives can help offset this.


Where do you see the greatest opportunities?

In the context of a just transition, I see the existing social dialogue structures and systems as one of the greatest opportunities for countries, regions and sectors to get the solutions for the necessary transition right, from the beginning.

It is proven that well-functioning social dialogue — consisting of negotiations, consultations, joint actions, discussions and information-sharing between employers and workers, or their representative organisations — is key in shaping economic development and social cohesion. Indeed, there are already numerous examples of initiatives at international, national, regional and company levels aimed at smoothing the transition.

However, the participation of workers and employers may not be sufficient to ensure socially just transitions. As we have found in our recent research, it is necessary to also involve local and regional communities, regional working groups and committees, concerned non-governmental organisations, academia, and so on. By expanding the concept and experience of social dialogue — traditionally linked to workers’ and employers’ negotiations and actions — to the sphere of sustainability, we can picture the challenges of a just transition being comprehensively discussed around a table where those truly affected by the transition, or their representatives, have both a seat and a voice.

An important obstacle to achieving this is that social dialogue practices and experience are not equally advanced across the EU. But maybe the existential threat we now face is an opportunity to learn from those with experience in social dialogue and to expand its scope to find the most efficient and just solutions for the transition.


What is Eurofound’s commitment to sustainability as an institution?

From my point of view, Eurofound, as an EU agency, has a two-pronged commitment to sustainability. On the one hand, through its work, Eurofound contributes with state-of-the-art research and knowledge, which is becoming more and more underpinned by considerations related to the sustainability of our economic systems, labour markets and societies in general.

A good example of such a commitment is the work we have carried out around the idea of sustainable work — which consists of achieving living and working conditions that support people in engaging and remaining in work throughout an extended working life. Sustainable work is an aspiration strongly linked to the traditional triplet of environmental, economic and social pillars of sustainability.

On the other hand, as an organisation, Eurofound also contributes to sustainability through internal activities and initiatives that have important impacts on its environment and surrounding communities. A good example of this is Eurofound’s environmental policy, developed and carried out under the umbrella of the EU Eco-Management and Audit Scheme (EMAS).

Such a policy clearly expresses Eurofound’s commitment to environmental management and improvement, and to sustainable development, which is in practice implemented through eco-management and audits. This requires involving staff in identifying and implementing improvements and regularly publishing environmental performance metrics based on a standard set of indicators.


Jorge Cabrita

Research manager at Eurofound


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