Eurogas Secretary General speech: social dialogue in the gas sector

Speech by James Watson Eurogas Secretary General at the European Sectoral Social Dialogue for the Gas Sector

Climate change is gaining an unprecedented level of attention with extreme weather events becoming increasingly regular. The European Commission wants Europe to take a lead on tackling climate change and the new Commission has devised a Green Deal for Europe which will be aimed at doing so.

The Green Deal will seek to set a carbon neutrality target for 2050 as well as provide financing for a just transition. It will be important that the new policy initiatives take account of gas and its potential to deliver on decarbonisation targets. For example, if the decision is made to re-open the 2030 targets and increase ambition to 50 or 55% then natural gas will be needed to deliver a switch from higher polluting alternatives and to balance intermittent renewable energy such as solar and wind. This period will also be crucial to begin the large-scale development of renewable and decarbonised gas. To do this a phase-in of the new gases will need to be encouraged and planned – through setting targets at the EU level and also through providing financing to incentivise the deployment in the Member States. The European Commission recognised that gas would still be needed in 2050 to achieve carbon neutrality in its 2018 Long Term Strategy, so lets make sure that we seize this opportunity.

If the EU gets this framework right we will not be talking about phase outs and lost jobs for gas. We will be talking about phase-ins and new industrial leadership. Re-skilling and up-skilling will be crucial for the sector, this is not the end of an era, but the beginning of a new one. For example, we are currently undertaking a large-scale study on the future of gas with DNV GL, this is plotting the possibilities of gas to deliver carbon neutrality by 2050 while also looking at some economic impacts, including on employment. The study is not finalised so I cannot give precise figures today, but the first estimates suggest that employment in the gas sector can increase from around 400K jobs today to around 600K jobs in the future if we utilise biogas and hydrogen. This this is about phase-ins of new jobs with new skills and new opportunities. The EU could gain jobs in the gas sector with the right policies. These jobs would also be dispersed and could support policies on rural development, supporting alleviation of rural poverty. This is an important European objective and gas can play a significant role in supporting rural communities through employment and wealth creation. These jobs would also provide the EU with industrial leadership in climate mitigating technologies. Today we lead the world in the production of electrolysers and anaerobic digestors, we make world-class LNG engines and are leading the development of pyrolysis technology for CCS. These are industrial opportunities not afforded by other energy sectors, so gas can not only keep, but also grow important European manufacturing jobs.

The gas sector is already moving. We are aware of numerous initiatives undertaken by our members to begin the re-training and skills provision activities that European workers will need. Let me speak about a few examples. ENGIE signed a European Labour Relations Agreement in 2016 as part of the negotiations of the European Works Council. Under this ENGIE commits to strategic planning for the changes in jobs and skills and increased training of employees, including creating an initiative called the “Energy Transition School” to boost the development of the skills needed for the transition.

Similarly, GRDF adopted new orientations for its training policy this year. It now focuses on new gases, with a “Green Gas Academy” and on digitalisation. The company has signed agreements with engineering schools in France to develop a third level education courses on gas.

ENI has invested €2 million per year on training in innovative themes: sustainability, climate change, digitalisation and cybersecurity. GasTerra has set up a “Green Gas Department”, to develop knowledge and know-how, and to lay the ground for a new business model based on renewable gases. These are just a few of the initiatives we are aware of from across Europe. There are many more and their numbers are growing.

The need for providing new skills can in part be met with the efforts of the industry and the unions, but the European Commission must also provide part of its innovation and just transition funding to making sure that gas sector employees receive the right skills for their future. A partnership is needed and this social dialogue should be seen as the means to achieve a better understanding of how all the partners gathered here today can work together to deliver on the promise of gas for the future.

We welcome this dialogue and look forward to delivering meaningful projects under the auspices of the dialogue to improve the fortunes of the European Union workers in the gas sector. We must seize the opportunities that gas offers for industrial leadership and employment in climate mitigation technologies. Let us lead in gas where we follow in so many other energy sectors.