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The Just Green Transition of the Labour Market

The following is the address of the secretary of UU to the Tripartite dialogue on the green transition on the labour market hosted by the Nordic Council of Ministers

For the green transition to be successful, it must be carried out by accord and agreement of everyone with a stake. People, groups, and organisations from all walks of society must not just be consulted but listened to. Without this agreement, without buy-in from everyone, we will not get far.

The burdens of the transition must be distributed fairly, as must be its gains.

Society and technology develop by everyone's effort, and the benefits thereof must be enjoyed by everyone, not just a few. Sure, not everyone will work something called a green job and not everyone's work may change. But they are still important and still contribute to the transition as a greener society will still require basic infrastructure, to be fed and clothed, healthcare, and so on. And so we all do our parts as cogs turning the wheels of progress.

Many, and especially the young, are now highly concerned about the loss of jobs and economic opportunities caused by the green transition as well as automation, especially automation by artificial intelligence. This is a rather woeful state of affairs. The increasing productivity of the economy should be something to celebrate and should benefit all its participants, not just a select few while more get left jobless. Benefit for example by way of shorter, flexible working hours and arrangements. This has additional benefits as studies show that more free time leads people to live a healthier and more sustainable lifestyle.

We must be aligned on a fair, just transition that leaves no one behind, leaves enough behind for future generations, does not overly deplete finite resources, and does not cause irrevocable damage to the natural world.

There is a risk that as we move forward, getting down into technical solutions and economic aspects that the social aspects may be overlooked. Those who are already disadvantaged or marginalized are especially at risk of being left behind as systems and society change. These groups, commonly including immigrants, indigenous people, and especially those who are disabled in one way or another, are also at significantly higher risk from increasingly extreme weather conditions, floods, fires, pollution, and other unfortunate realities we are increasingly being forced to confront. This is why we must ensure we have the appropriate social systems and services in place to keep those risks from becoming a reality

A green, competitive, socially sustainable Nordic region by 2030. That is the vision that has been presented to us. And a very pretty vision at that. My biggest fear for this goal is the temptation to solve our problems, environmental, economic, and social by not solving but instead outsourcing them abroad, effectively sweeping them under the rug.

We commonly like to pride ourselves on high social and economic development, readily setting goals to not just be sustainable and integrated, but the most sustainable and integrated region in the world. However the Nordic countries already rank particularly poorly on scope 3 emissions and spillover effects, the effects our business and consumption have on other countries and regions of the world.

Our ways of life and doing business rely on low-cost manufacturing commonly done in developing countries by an appallingly exploited labour force, where women notably suffer disproportionately. And where little regard is given for any environmental impact or carbon footprint. We set strong labour laws and environmental regulations at home, and hold big meetings discussing sustainability and fairness, why do we think relying on goods and services produced in such a manner is acceptable?


We cannot simply ship our problems off out of sight and then put them out of our minds. As we strive towards this vision, it is paramount that we do that we tackle and solve our problems here at home both environmental and social. And implement real solutions to these challenges.

We are running out of time. Both me on this stage and we as a society facing down the planetary crisis standing before us. Action is needed now, not when some theoretical flawless solution has been devised. Don’t let perfect get in the way of good. Start with the little things, the obvious, the low-hanging fruit. Improve efficiency, and reduce waste. And go from there.

We have a saying here in Iceland that “Hálfnað verk þá hafið er”, meaning that once you have started something you’re already halfway to completing it. While I’m sure this is not quite the beginning of this journey for everyone here, it is a beginning. And so let us begin. The psychological and precedence setting impact of just taking just a few steps in the right direction cannot be overstated.

A recent large-scale study on climate anxiety found that 75% of young people fear the future. A statistic fuelled years and decades of inaction on this front. So let's try to put a change to that.

I have been asked to speak here today on behalf of youth and these young people. And if you’ll indulge me in a spot of drama, young people who are forced to grow up viewing the threat of a climate disaster hanging over the whole planet, like the sword of Damocles ready to fall.

We are the ones to inherit this world you are trying to change.

So try not to muck it up.

This address was given by Snorri Hallgrímsson, the secretary of Ungir umhverfissinnar.


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