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Futures of Green Skills and Jobs in Europe 2050: Scenarios and Policy Implications

Author

Mikkel Knudsen

Dec 15, 2023

A new policy brief explores alternative future outcomes for green skills and jobs in Europe 2050. Based on participatory workshops and a foresight deep dive, the policy brief presents four alternative scenarios and their implications for R&I policy.

Climate change and environmental degradation are existential threats to the European Union and to the world. As a response, the EU has pushed for a green transition with, among other things, the European Green Deal and its aims of making Europe climate-neutral by 2050. If followed through, the transition towards greener and more sustainable economies is a game changer in the EU labour market alongside digitalisation and automation. Skill needs will change with impacts far beyond the key occupations driving them. In fact, more or less all economic sectors will be affected.

 

To succeed, Europe needs to promote and support green employment, address the skilling and reskilling of workers, and anticipate changes in workplaces of the future. In order to get a better grasp on potential future outcomes, and better anticipate their potential policy implications, a foresight Deep Dive was carried out with the main findings presented here.

 

16 alternative futures devised, four elaborated in further detail

The expert team, with input from stakeholders and workshop participants, initially produced a scenario matrix based on four dichotomic dimensions. The dichotomic dimensions relates to the state of the environment in 2050 (positive extremes, negative extremes), EU's ability to provide global leadership in green solutions and technologies (positive and negative extremes), the supply of a green skilled workforce in Europe (high and low supply), and, finally, the demand for a green workforce (high and low demand).

 

The scenario matrix produces 16 alternative futures from which four were chosen by the expert team and the scenario participants for further exploration. The policy brief identifies key features from the four scenarios:

 

· Scenario A: Green technology-intensive Europe: Struggling to fill all the green jobs. Here, the European Union has advanced in a green transition across society and, as a result of the effort, has gained global leadership in green solutions. New green technologies and the consistent need for reckoning with past environmental damage and past climate change emissions (i.e. adaptation to rising temperatures and reactions to adverse weather events) accelerates demand for green skills. However, with European demographic developments there is a low offer of green skilled workers and a struggle to fill all the green jobs. The key challenge of the skills ecosystem is to match the high demand for green skills.

 

· Scenario B: Apocalypse Soon: Fighting skills mismatches in a degraded environment. Here, Europe plays a leading global role in green tech with booming exports, but the environment is in a critical state in Europe and globally. Society is polarised as some industrial sectors are booming, while a majority of the European population struggles with deteriorating living standards and increased damages from natural disasters. The capacity of states and non-green sectors to provide skills training has been limited, reinforcing labour market polarization and trapping companies in non-green sectors in vicious cycles.

 

· Scenario C: Feeling the pain: A workforce left behind in a non-green world. This scenario represents increasing environmental pressures from man-made climate change that have not been effectively addressed over the past decades. The EU is a follower, not a leader. People in 2050 are dealing with rising temperatures, accelerated loss of biodiversity and nature, increased pollution, and more adverse weather events. A significant number of green jobs concern themselves with adaptation to system pressures and even systems breakdowns, i.e. limiting the negative impacts of environmental damages. This has impacted jobs because EU employers have little demand for green skills. The main industrial and innovation organisations are based outside Europe and are using remote working and technology to undertake many job roles and tasks. Over the past three decades, people have been investing in green skills believing that these will be in demand. However, the state of the EU green market means that many of these skills are now redundant or outdated. Consequently, there is an oversupply of green skilled labour from those already in the labour market and those seeking to enter it.

 

· Scenario D: Green leapfrogging: Old, mismatched Europe surrounded by new green giants. In 2050, third countries and regions have leapfrogged leaving Europe behind. The world has seen geopolitical shifts, but also an improved environment. Young people leave the EU to work in countries with positive green agendas. Countries within the EU begin to align themselves with non-EU green leaders rather than promote unity from within. Towards 2050, EU is in ‘catch-up mode’ trying to restructure the economic and skills ecosystems towards modes more aligned within planetary boundaries and with the green, global development trends.

 

The four scenarios purposefully explored potential extremes within the dominant scenario dimensions. Together, they highlight that there is no certainty for the long-term development of the supply or demand of green skills on the European labour market. Rather, the supply and demand will be shaped by the outcomes of certain key factors and through key policy choices of the present and of the near-future.

 

The policy brief did highlight several other key findings deemed relevant across the various development paths. First, each scenario highlights the importance of a strong, vocational education and training (VET) skills base. The brief stresses that the category of green jobs, now and in the future, encompasses both low, medium and high-tech professions. An R&I policy underpinning green skills should therefore consider various levels, not just frontier (green) technology development. Beyond the design of the solution, a VET base with transferable skills and short-term skills programming is important for the solution's societal deployment and uptake. A resilient workforce ready to take on 'bolt-on' skills quickly will also be highly sought after if changing weather conditions increasingly requires rapid responses for which needs are difficult to predict years in advance.

 

Another feature across the scenarios is the uncertainty related to the label 'green'. Looking back from 2050, people will likely question parts of what is today categorised as green. Our shared understanding of what green means is reconfigured over time. European R&I policy should devise mechanisms that can reflect - perhaps even anticipate - such shifting value attributions. If there is not such a reassessment mechanism, there will likely be overinvestments in technologies and solutions that ceases to be considered as green improvements.

 

Finally, the scenarios address the need for stronger international cooperation for the development of green skills. Climate change and environmental challenges require global uptake of solutions. An isolated Europe is unlikely to lead to positive outcomes for both environment and (European) employment simultaneously. In the more optimistic future outcomes, a key defining challenge will be to make the green labour market more diverse and inclusive. This is a challenge that European R&I policy would do well to take up already today.

 

Please read the full brief here: https://www.futures4europe.eu/_files/ugd/b20891_aa373683eb1d470a9d04068039bda39f.pdf

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