Supporting the green transition – A growing urgency
There is growing urgency in supporting the green transition, as countries scramble to achieve targets that tackle the major global challenges of climate change, environmental degradation and loss of biodiversity. There are two crucial factors – a need for rapid action and scale, but there will be profound consequences for people that must also be addressed.
“Failure will lead to greater problems of social cohesion and new vulnerabilities,” says Anastasia Fetsi, Head of Operations at the European Training Foundation (ETF). She is leading “Supporting the Green Transition”, one of six thematic sessions at an international conference being held virtually from 21 to 25 June 2021.
The green transition needs investment. It needs bold decisions in terms of regulations. And it needs people with green awareness and skills who can be part of the process. “We cannot drag our feet any longer,” Fetsi stresses.
The conference is being organised by the ETF and UNESCO in collaboration with UNICEF, and is titled “Building lifelong learning systems: Skills for green and inclusive societies in the digital era online”. Its objectives are: to reflect on experiences in transforming education and training systems into lifelong learning; and to confirm priorities for future human capital development cooperation against a backdrop of global challenges such as COVID-19.
Climate change, environmental degradation and loss of biodiversity are global challenges that are already impacting on livelihoods and societies, says a conference Concept Note on supporting the green transition.
The Sustainable Development Goals address climate change and environmental degradation. “The 2015 Paris agreement highlights the need for countries to implement ambitious climate action based on the best available science to drive economic and social transformation,” it says.
The European Green Deal is the European Union’s new growth strategy for a resource-efficient, sustainable economy and a just transition to climate neutrality by 2050. It increasingly guides all internal and external EU policies, including in the areas of skills, education and training.
“These all recognise that the rapid shift towards climate neutrality and digital transformation changes the way we work, learn, take part in society and lead our everyday lives. Young people need to be well prepared and adults need to up-skill and reskill to adapt to these changes.”
At the same time, the Concept Note continues, there is increasing awareness among the business community of new opportunities that the greening of the economy creates, combined with escalating consumer demand for eco-friendly products and services.
The strong policy drive towards sustainable economies and societies has major implications for education, training and skills. Citizens need environmental awareness and education. The green transition will stimulate technological and economic innovation, and will create jobs that require new skills and knowledge. Upskilling and reskilling large numbers of people will be required, and new skills ecosystems will interweave changes with skills development.
The green transition session
In ETF partner countries in the European neighbourhood, there are activities underway to develop general and specific skills that are useful for the green transition. For instance, training providers – frequently in collaboration with companies or sectors – have started adapting their profiles and programmes. There are efforts to raise green awareness among people.
“It is not a massive movement, but it is taking place,” says Fetsi. The session will tap into this experience, discuss areas of potential and explore the kinds of policy support that might be useful in order to upscale actions. Policy suggestions will go forward to a high-level political event.
The purpose is to identify policy priorities for the future. If there are to be environmental and economic gains from regulations and developments in the energy sector, for example, policy priorities must be identified that will support education and training systems to act fast.
Who will lose jobs? Who will need to be retrained to implement new technologies that will accompany the greening of different sectors? What are the new skills needed and how might they best be developed? These are just some of the questions to be interrogated.
There is also a need to explore key components of change, says Fetsi. “One is regulation that drives change in education and training systems through the need for new skills and professions. But we also we have a ‘green’ market that is being expanded and requires new skills.”
An example of policy-driven change comes from Georgia, which has regulations calling on companies of a certain size and polluting level, to deploy environmental managers – essentially, waste managers. This does not necessarily create a new profession, and may not require a person to be recruited specifically. But it is driving new skills and a new professional job.
An example of a market driver is solar panels, as countries move to energy efficiency and renewable energy sources. Solar panels are becoming a necessity and companies are exploiting this booming market. Their installation and maintenance requires new skills.
While regulation and market forces are powerful influences, there is a diversity of drivers. Public opinion is important, as are the activities of international donors and local NGOs. An education and training system itself can be a driver of change. Some providers are identifying opportunities and introducing courses to impart new skills. New curricula are being prepared for schools.
The conference will explore whether education systems and educators are flexible enough to adapt provision to the new skills requirements, which encompass both technical skills and key competencies such as system thinking and collaborative approaches to problem solving. Also, Fetsi asks: “How might they work together to move from islands of excellence and innovation into something widespread across the education system?”
Growing urgency and a need for scale
There is urgency around efforts to achieve the environmental targets to which countries have committed. There are numerous actions at the EU level, and a new European taxonomy of sustainable economic activities, which will guide financing and implementation decisions for the green transition. “We have to move faster towards targets,” says Fetsi.
However, the more rapidly countries move with economic restructuring, pushing in particular sectors like energy, the more challenges they will have in reskilling people. “There must be an infrastructure to retrain people for a greener future. We need to be working on that already.?
The COVID-19 pandemic has created economic problems and vulnerabilities. The green transition is happening at the same time – and is expected to support – a post-COVID recovery and the digital transition, and they all create challenges and opportunities.
Countries where the ETF works have started making training more adaptive to the emerging needs of the green transition. But developments are in their infancy, and are small scale or sporadic. They mainly concern informal training and focus on skills development in certain economic sectors.
Fetsi highlights the critical need for scale. At the level of colleges that – through courses, teacher training, and collaboration with local actors – deliver new training provision. But also scale in terms of outcomes: people who are trained and are prepared for the green transition.
“Supporting the green transition and benefiting from the opportunities it brings will require more systemic and rapid action on a far larger scale.” This is the challenge for the future.
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