Just Transition in the Car Industry at Science Po’s Conference

On February 8th, Sarah Mewes, team member of EUKI project Just Transition in the Car Industry was invited to speak about the Just Transition in the automotive industry at the ‘Perspectives on Just Transition’ conference hosted by Science Po, one of France’s top universities for social sciences.

Published: 06 March 2023

The conference topics covered a wide range of elements of a Just Transition: Frank Siebern-Thomas (DG Employment, European Commission) presented the EU’s Just Transition policies, Prof. Phoebe Koundouri (UN Sustainable Development Solutions Network), linked the Just Transition policies to the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals and Dr. Sanna Markkanen (Cambridge Institute for Sustainability Leadership), focused on energy poverty.

Science Po conference “Perspectives on Just Transition”, Photo: ©Sarah Mewes

The automotive industry is a key industry when it comes to a Just Transition: not only is it one of the largest in terms of GDP and employment all across Europe, but the transport sector is one of the sectors with the most and still rising CO2-emissions. Together with a project consortium from Germany, Czechia, Poland, Croatia, Hungary and Slovakia, we have therefore carried out research and identified four gaps that need to be closed in order to ensure a Just Transition: The geographical gap, i.e. the difficulties that different regions have in adapting to the transition; the skills gap, i.e. the lack of workers with the skills required for the transition; the time gap, i.e. the time lag between the disappearance of old jobs and the emergence of new ones; and the attractiveness gap, i.e. the fact that the new jobs are unlikely to be as attractive as the jobs that are disappearing in the automotive industry.

Science Po conference “Perspectives on Just Transition”, Photo: ©Sarah Mewes

Closing these gaps is crucial to ensure the “just” part of the transition. However, if the pathway of the transition will take place is still unclear. Instead of a phase-out like it is happening in the coal-industry, there are three main strategies in the automotive sector. Proponents of the electrification strategy, mainly EU policymakers, Western European countries and major car manufacturers, are in favor of phasing out combustion engines and replacing them with electric vehicles. The supporters of the mobility shift strategy, mainly environmental NGOs, demand a reduction of the usage and production of cars in general and a switch to public transport. The proponents of a technology openness strategy advocate for the switch to e-fuels and electric cars equally.

Although the electrification path is the strongest at the moment, there are still many open questions regarding the pathway of a Just Transition. So, it is all the more necessary to keep putting the topic of a Just Transition in the automotive industry on the agenda and think it together with a mobility shift strategy to ensure that both people and the climate are not shortchanged in this debate.

The full conference can be watched here.