SAK Report: Climate action affects employment and the need for skills, but the scope of its impact remains unclear

A report published in January suggests that climate change and efforts to mitigate it are unlikely to reduce the total volume of labour in Finland if climate action is implemented in a managed way. Stricter emission reduction targets nevertheless remain a cause for concern in terms of maintaining competitiveness and jobs in many sectors. Transfers of work between and within sectors will heighten the need to update employee skills.
03.02.2020 11:38
Sawmill worker Jenni Matikainen. Photo: Jaakko Lukumaa

These assessments are based on a study by the Central Organisation of Finnish Trade Unions (SAK), which interviewed specialists from 13 unions in various industries.

Pia Björkbacka

“The interviewees found problems and uncertainties in assessing the impact of climate action on the world of work in all sectors. Estimating the scale of change proved particularly difficult,” explains SAK international affairs adviser Pia Björkbacka.

The largest emission reduction targets are in the industrial and transport sectors, which also have the highest number of politically directed climate measures. These measures are also mainly based on political guidance in the public service sectors.

Climate action in private services and some transport sectors is often due to changes in consumer behaviour and energy efficiency measures taken by businesses. Changes in consumer demand can also be seen in industry.

“For example, new food and health trends and growing climate awareness have created an entirely new type of business operation in Finland, with work in processing plant-based foodstuffs. The growing demand for battery technology is bringing more opportunities to Finnish mining and metals industries, plant-based products for the paper and chemical industry are replacing fossil raw materials, and timber construction is a growing business area for the wood products industry,” Björkbacka notes.

Climate policy must anticipate the impact of measures on the demand for skills

The SAK report suggests that climate action is boosting the need to update vocational skills in all sectors. Though survey respondents felt that this need could largely be met through in-service training in most industries, there were nevertheless also many industrial sectors requiring completely new expertise.

Pia Björkbacka stresses that climate policy must consider the impact of measures not only on carbon dioxide emissions, but also on employment and the need for skills.

“Employers must take responsibility for making employees more climate aware, improving their vocational skills and reassigning them to new duties, with employers and employees collaborating for more effective in-service learning.”

A previous membership survey report published by SAK in October indicates that nearly 70 per cent of trade union members between 20 and 40 years of age are favourably disposed to studying for a new occupation if this is necessary to curb climate change.

“Vocational training must be versatile, and it must make employees more adaptable, so that they are capable of retraining for new duties. The ability to pay for vocational retraining must also be ensured, Björkbacka insists.”

The Impact of Climate Action on Work and the Status of Employees report (in Finnish) is part of the SAK Time of opportunity project, which focused on climate policy and its impact on employment during the autumn and early winter. Besides studying trade unions and conducting member surveys, SAK has reviewed the opinions of employee representatives concerning climate change mitigation and has collected examples of how various countries have implemented climate policy in ways that are fair to employees. All of these publications are available online in Finnish at