Connie Hedegaard: A good climate for learning
Connie Hedegaard’s goal of making Europe the most climate friendly region in the world are reflected in the EU’s targets for greenhouse gas reduction by 2020. Key to achieving these is raising the awareness of Europe’s citizens of the challenging and longterm investments they will need to make. Education is key to this as Live&Learn found out.
With ailing economies and leaders focused on fighting the financial crisis, is the time right for EU climate action?
I would turn it around. Are the current economic troubles not the best time to start being more prudent, to save more energy, not to waste limited resources? I believe there is only one correct answer to this question: a strong yes. And European citizens agree. Last year a Eurobarometer survey showed that more than two thirds of Europeans see climate change as a very serious problem. Almost 80% consider that taking action to combat climate change can boost the economy and create jobs. Make no mistake: climate action is about difficult choices and long-term gains, so it has never been easy.
Climate action is usually portrayed as costs. You however always underline the profits that come with it. Is the glass half empty or half full? What are the “climate actions” that fill this glass?
I’ll give you an example. Last year the Commission adopted the Energy Efficiency Directive. It has yet to be adopted by the Parliament and the Council, which I hope will happen in the first half of 2012. The act includes a commitment to retrofit 3% of public buildings each year, improving insulation and stopping leaks. Better insulation for Europe’s buildings would help a construction sector that needs support badly. This energy efficiency drive alone could generate 500,000 jobs in the years up to 2020. So, here in one go, you cut emissions, save energy and create jobs.
But we also have other initiatives in the climate field where all in all there is the potential to create 1.5 million new jobs, net, by 2020. And let us not forget that fossil fuels are very costly, too. Last year, fossil fuel imports cost the EU €513 billion. Amounts in that order of magnitude could solve the debt problems of many member states.
Green jobs, like the ones you mentioned in construction, require green skills. How do we make sure we have the right people to do this new work? Where do education and training fit into EU climate action?
Education has at least two goals in relation to climate action. One is awareness: helping people learn about climate change. The other is skills: helping people learn how to live in a climate-changed world. I think we are quite good at raising awareness as the surveys show. But there is definitely some way to go when it comes to practical skills. Some of the learning will come more spontaneously as businesses see opportunities in green growth. The rest will need public support in the beginning, but in due course many will then find out that there is additional money to be made when choosing upmarket green solutions: better insulation, smart heating systems etc. The majority of green jobs combine existing skills with additional skills related to green technologies, applications or processes. Yes, there will be the need for some radically new competences, but mostly we need to retrain and up-skill people across many jobs and occupations such as carpenters and electricians, for instance. So, education systems need to anticipate and respond to changes in the labour market and in the skills profiles needed for successful careers in lowcarbon economies.
Read more in the latest issue of ETF magazine Live&Learn