Article of the UIA Knowledge base
Edit 24 February 2022
by UIA expert Eddy Adams

How can UIA cities inspire others to promote jobs and skills for Just Transitions?

UIA is conducting a two-year knowledge development activity focused on Just Transitions, contribution UIA cities are making towards this goal. This article provides an update on the initial process, focused on jobs and skills in the climate neutral economy.

The UIA mission on Just Transitions

How can Europe achieve its goal of climate neutrality without leaving any person or place behind? What can be done to ensure that our citizens have the skills, jobs and businesses to thrive in a decarbonised future? How can we make carbon neutral cities affordable for all? And what can be done to renew participative structures to ensure that the transition to climate neutrality is a democratic one?

As the Urban Lab of Europe, UIA is supporting a wide range of city projects that are addressing these key questions. In July 2021 it launched a two-year knowledge development activity to investigate them. The focus of this activity is the 86 UIA projects funded to date under the Initiative’s 14 topics.

This article summarises the current journey of the first strand of this UIA activity. Here, the focus is on cities, jobs and just transitions, which will conclude with a report published in spring 2022. The work has been undertaken by a highly experienced team of UIA experts, each of whom works directly with city innovation projects. The process has included a series of hearings with UIA cities prominent in this field, as well as with a number of key agencies actively engaged in the question of green jobs, skills and businesses.

In November 2021 the team finalised its inception report on cities, jobs and Just Transitions. This summarised the scale and complexity of the jobs, skills and industry challenge drawing upon existing data. It noted some optimistic forecasts, such as Eurofound’s assessment that full implementation of the Paris Agreement by 2030 could generate a 1.1% GDP and 0.5% employment increase across the EU.

However, even in the most optimistic scenario, it is evident that, in terms of the economy and labour markets, the distributional impact will be uneven – both geographically and socially. For example, carbon intensive sectors (such as coal and lignite mining) are likely to disappear altogether with the anticipated loss of 338,000 jobs (Bruegel, 2020), affecting host regional economies. Also, the proportion of low-skilled workers will continue to decrease, which is particular issue in those energy intensive sectors which have traditionally low training participation rates (Griffen 2019).


The green jobs and skills context

During the early stages of this work, the team conducted a series of exchanges with a number of organisations already active in the Just Transitions and local green skills space, including ICLEI, CEDEFOP, the European Investment Bank, the OECD and the European Commission - DG GROW. In addition, the team drew upon the experience of the sounding board for this work, which includes the European Commission DG REGIO and Joint Research Centre, URBACT and Eurocities.

Their inputs have helped to frame the approach to this work, and some important recurring themes emerged from the exchanges. Salient amongst these were the following points:

  • The combined themes of climate neutrality and social justice, at the root of Just Transitions, have often been treated separately. This is due to the complexity of the topic, its highly political nature and the fact that effective approaches require integrated cross-departmental solutions. There is a strong shift towards addressing this, for example through ICLEI’s Urban Transition Alliance
  • There are significant and growing dedicated resources designed to facilitate Just Transitions. Most notably this includes the EU Just Transitions Fund and other related mechanisms, as well as the interventions of key agencies like the EIB whose strategic approach has been aligned with the need for decarbonisation. This is also evident in the direction of travel for mainstream Cohesion Policy, whose resources can support the scaling and mainstreaming of effective innovations.
  • The EU’s established approach to sustainable urban development (SUD), built around the integrated participative model, can function as one of the keystones to achieving Just Transitions. Capacity building activity – foreseen in the new European Urban Initiative – and strongly championed by the JRC, URBACT, the Urban Development Network (UDN) and others, will assume new levels of importance if city authorities are to raise their game to meet the challenge.
  • Defining a clear picture of ‘green jobs and skills’ remains a major challenge. An initial raft of research, conducted almost a decade ago, including the OECD’s Greener Skills and Jobs and CEDEFOP’s Green Skills and Innovation for Inclusive Growth, provided important baselines. Both of these organisations are now at the forefront of updating this knowledge, creating encouraging new collaborative models. One example is the OECD/Eurocities collaboration on future proofing adult skills in cities, another is CEDEFOP’s alignment with DG GROW, on the back of their Intelligent Cities work, with a shared focus on skills for localising the Green Deal. Cities face significant challenges in the skills space, as many key levers are beyond their scope. However, the growing focus on green skills clearly has a local dimension.


What will these UIA city experiences tell us?

No UIA city has been funded under the distinct banner of ‘Just Transitions.’ The process identified 25 UIA cities actively involved in promoting the jobs, skills and business dimension of Just Transitions through topics that included Energy Transition, Climate Adaptation and the Circular Economy. Ten of these cities provided evidence at a series of hearings organised through the autumn of 2021.

Together we explored the challenges cities face, the innovative solutions they have developed and the scope for replication and scaling. This was done through the following three specific entry points:

  • Forecasting new skills for the green economy
  • Supporting emerging green sectors
  • Skilling and Reskilling

This work confirms that UIA cities are implementing innovative approaches to promoting skills, jobs and businesses that will contribute to Just Transitions. It will provide specific examples of how they are doing this, together with recommendations for how they can provide inspiration – as well as practical guidance – to cities across Europe, and beyond.

Examples include the cities of Eindhoven and Manchester, which are improving intelligence of what the new labour market requires, and the skills citizens will need to remain employable. It will also shine a light on smaller cities like Viladecans and Lappeenranta, which are creating new local business ecosystems designed to provide services, support industry transition and create jobs. And it will showcase the experience of cities like Cluj-Napoca and Aveiro, which are investing heavily in the skilling and reskilling of citizens, to better prepare them for the change already under way.

What’s next

Full report is to be shared this spring!

In the meantime, sign up here to get all updates and join us in Seville (27-28 April) to discuss cities contribution to climate adaptation and Just Transitions policies.

During the event, we will also share the main findings of the ”Cities, Jobs and Just Transitions” report, highlighting the innovative urban best-practices on Skills Forecasting, Supporting Emerging Green Sectors, and Skilling and Reskilling to help urban authorities deliver better Just transitions locally.        

Stay updated with the UIA KnowledgeLab and our social media platforms @UIA_Initiative for the latest results and findings.


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