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Transitioning to a Low Carbon Economy: Trade Unions and the Jobs Versus Environment Dilemma

Project description

Trade unions divided between labour and nature

The European Union is committed to fulfilling its obligations under the Paris Agreement and the UN 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development to transition to a low carbon economy. Success hinges on a broad coalition between national governments, supranational organisations, corporations, and civil society. While trade unions also have a crucial role to play, they are faced with a dilemma between the protection of jobs and environment protection. The EU-funded Eco-Unions project will conduct an interdisciplinary and multi-method study in Denmark and the UK. It will compare trade union approaches and explore how organisational and institutional dynamics influence their action and determine their role in public debate on decarbonisation.


Tackling the global crisis of human-induced climate change is the most urgent and immense challenge of the twenty-first century. To help surmount this challenge, the European Union has subscribed to the Paris Agreement and the seventeen goals of the United Nations 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. Transitioning to a low carbon economy requires a broad coalition of governments, supranational institutions, corporations, and civil society actors. Among these, trade unions have a crucial role to play because the most significant path to decarbonization will be through a transformation of industrial production, which accounts for more than 80 per cent of Europe’s total carbon emissions. While trade unions have a demonstrated capacity to help make industrial processes more sustainable, their action is limited by a constant “jobs versus environment” dilemma between protecting the environment and protecting jobs in polluting industries, which millions of their members depend on for their livelihood. ‘Transitioning to a Low Carbon Economy: Trade Unions and the Jobs versus Environment Dilemma’ (EcoUnions) is a comparative, interdisciplinary and multi methods study that will: (a) examine and compare trade union approaches to the dilemma in Denmark and the United Kingdom; b) explore how organisational and institutional dynamics shape trade union action; and (c) determine what role trade unions play in public debate on the transition to a low carbon economy. Theoretically, the goal of Eco-Unions is to develop a multi-level analytical framework that can guide future empirical inquiry and allow for a holistic understanding of the three key interconnected arenas in which trade unions are navigating the “jobs versus environment” dilemma: internal union strategizing, climate policy-making and public debate. To achieve this, an interdisciplinary approach is applied, combining employment relations with environmental sociology and the new field of environmental labour studies.


Net EU contribution
€ 219 312,00
1165 Kobenhavn

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Danmark Hovedstaden Byen København
Activity type
Higher or Secondary Education Establishments
Total cost
€ 219 312,00