Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Green Jobs

Towards Decent Work in a Sustainable, Low-Carbon World
UN Environment Programme

‘Economic activity and employment depend in fundamental ways on avoiding continued resource depletion and safeguarding ecosystems and ecological services. If action on urgent environmental problems, especially countering climate change, is not taken, many jobs could be lost to resource depletion, biodiversity loss, increasing disasters, and other disruptions. On the other hand, environmental policies not only protect existing jobs against these threats, but also stimulate new businesses and job creation’. So says this new UNEP report.

It takes a look at all the options for new and continued but sustainable jobs, but notes that ‘With regard to both nuclear power and coal, continued heavy investments may draw critical resources (R&D, investment capital, as well as scientists, engineers, and technicians) away from the pursuit of alternatives such as renewable energy and greater energy efficiency’. And so it focusses mainly on renewables.

It says ‘Renewable energy sources are expanding rapidly. We estimate current employment at about 2.3 million jobs worldwide. Given incomplete data, this is in all likelihood a conservative figure. The wind power industry employs some 300,000 people, the solar PV sector an estimated 170,000, and the solar thermal industry more than 600,000, many of the latter in China.’ Overall China had nearly 1 million working in the sector, followed by the USA and about 450,000 and Germany at around 260,000, in 2006/7.

However it notes that ‘about half of all present renewables jobs are found in the biofuels industry’ and ‘there are rising doubts about the environmental benefits and economic impacts of at least some types of biofuels. In addition, the bulk of biofuels jobs are found at sugarcane and palm oil plantations, where wages are low, working conditions often extremely poor, and worker rights at least in some cases suppressed. Many of these jobs can hardly be described as good or decent employment’.

The report stresses the need for ‘ just transition’ that avoid problems like this and it is not too keen on market competition as a means of promoting rapid development of sustainable approaches. It also points to issues of training and skill development, noting that ‘in many OECD countries, deindustrialization and offshoring of manufacturing have created a situation where companies in the fledgling green economy are struggling to find workers with the skills needed’ and in the developing world there are even more problems of skill gaps. But it says ‘In just two or three decades the entire global economy will need to be well on the way to being low-carbon and sustainable. The historical circumstances therefore demand that bold measures be taken to both expand the green economy and grow green jobs at a much faster pace in the developed world, and to ensure that the same process begins in earnest in the developing countries’.

Overall then, despite the problems, it is hopeful. Longer term it concludes that ‘Renewable energy is poised for continued expansion, and may generate more than 8 million jobs in wind and solar alone over the next two decades. If most or all new buildings were constructed according to higher efficiency standards, it would revolutionize the construction industry. Many additional green jobs can be created through extensive weatherization and retrofitting of existing buildings.’ Perhaps less convincingly it claims that ‘Similar change is possible in agriculture—switching the bulk of the world’s farming to organic and sustainable methods’.

For the EU, it notes that the MITRE modelling exercise ‘found that under current policies, there would be about 950,000 direct and indirect full-time jobs by 2010 and 1.4 million by 2020. These are “net” numbers—taking into account potential job losses in conventional energy and relating to renewables support mechanisms, which may result in lower spending elsewhere in the economy. Under an “Advanced Renewable Strategy,” there could be 1.7 million net jobs by 2010 and 2.5 million by 2020. These results are actually quite conservative in the sense that they cover employment just within the smaller EU-15 (i.e., before expansion), and exclude jobs supported by renewables exports to other countries. About 60–70 percent of the jobs would be in renewables industries (primarily biofuels and biomass processing and wind power), the remainder in agriculture. An analysis by skill level indicates that skilled jobs account for about a third of net employment growth’.

See MITRE project site,

The UNEP report:

The prospects for job growth do look good. In the UK the government has been talking of 70,000 jobs form the offshore wind energy programme by 2020 and perhaps 60,000 from wave and tidal programmes by 2030. We could do better than that. I’ve been working on a Campaign against Climate Change report on ‘Climate Jobs’, making that case. A revised version of their ‘1 million Climate Change jobs now!’ booklet should be out soon. See