Green economy could generate millions of jobs

Posted: 23 October 2008

Efforts to tackle climate change could result in the creation of millions of new "green jobs", says the United Nations in a new report on the prospects for a green econiomy in the coming decades.

The report says efforts to reduce climate change and its effects are already generating new jobs in many sectors and economies, and could create millions more in both developed and developing countries.

The global market for environmental products and services is projected to double from US$1,370 billion ($1.37 trillion) per year at present to US$2,740 billion ($2.74 trillion) by 2020, according to a study cited in the report.

Half of this market is in energy efficiency and the balance in sustainable transport, water supply, sanitation and waste management. In Germany for example, environmental technology is expected to grow fourfold to 16 per cent of industrial output by 2030, with employment in this sector surpassing that in the country's big machine tool and automotive industries.

Solar-powered irrigation
Solar-powered irrigation
Flourishing crops are the result of the new drip-irrigation system.
Sectors that will be particularly important in terms of their environmental, economic and employment impact are energy supply, in particular renewable energy, buildings and construction, transportation,basic industries, agriculture and forestry.

Venture capital

Clean technologies are already the third largest sector for venture capital after information and biotechnology in the United States, while green venture capital in China more than doubled to 19 per cent of total investment in recent years.

The reort says renewable energy now generates more jobs than employment in fossil fuels. Projected investments of US$630 billion by 2030 would translate into at least 20 million additional jobs in the renewable energy sector.

In agriculture, 12 million could be employed in biomass for energy and related industries. In a country like Venezuela, an ethanol blend of 10 per cent in fuels might provide one million jobs in the sugar cane sector by 2012.

A worldwide transition to energy-efficient buildings would create millions of jobs, as well as "greening" existing employment for many of the estimated 111 million people already working in the construction sector.

Investments in improved energy efficiency in buildings could generate an additional 2-3.5 million green jobs in Europe and the United States alone, with the potential much higher in developing countries.

Recycling and waste management employs an estimated 10 million in China and 500,000 in Brazil today. This sector is expected to grow rapidly in many countries in the face of escalating commodity prices.

Solar enterprises

The report provides examples of massive green jobs creation, throughout the world, such as: 600,000 people in China who are already employed in solar thermal enterprises, making and installing products such as solar water heaters;

Construction of the new combined olive oil and electricity plant, Anadalucia, Spain. © WWF-Canon / Claire Doole
Construction of the new combined olive oil and electricity plant, Anadalucia, Spain. © WWF-Canon / Claire Doole
Construction of the new combined olive oil and electricity plant, Anadalucia, Spain.© WWF-Canon / Claire Doole
In Nigeria, a bio fuels industry based on cassava and sugar cane crops might sustain an industry employing 200,000 people; India could generate 900,000 jobs by 2025 in biomass gasification of which 300,000 would be in the manufacturing of stoves and 600,000 in areas such as processing into briquettes and pellets and the fuel supply chain; and in South Africa, 25,000 previously unemployed people are now employed in conservation as part of the 'Working for Water' initiative.

Some 2.3 million people have in recent years found new jobs in the renewable energy sector alone, and the potential for job growth in the sector is huge. Employment in alternative energies may rise to 2.1 million in wind and 6.3 million in solar power by 2030.

However, the report also finds that the process of climate change, already underway, will continue to have negative effects on workers and their families, especially those whose livelihoods depend on agriculture and tourism. Action to tackle climate change as well as to cope with its effects is therefore urgent and should be designed to generate decent jobs.

Decent jobs

Though the report is generally optimistic about the creation of new jobs to address climate change, it also warns that many of these new jobs can be "dirty, dangerous and difficult". Sectors of concern, especially in developing economies nclude work in agriculture and recycling which is often poorly paid, with insecure employment contracts and exposure to health hazardous materials. This needs to change fast.

What's more, it says too few green jobs are being created for the 1.3 billion working poor (43 per cent of the global workforce, with earnings too low to lift them and their dependants above the poverty threshold of US$2 per person, per day, or for the estimated 500 million young people who will be seeking work over the next 10 years.

Green jobs, it says, reduce the environmental impact of enterprises and economic sectors, ultimately to levels that are sustainable.'Green jobs' in agriculture, industry, services and administration all contribute to preserving or restoring the quality of the environment. But measures are needed to ensure that they constitute "decent work" that helps reduce poverty while protecting the environment.

Dialogue between government, workers and employers will be essential ease tensions and develop better environmental, economic and social policies.

Looking to the future the report says "A sustainable economy can no longer externalise environmental and social costs. The price society pays for the consequences of pollution or ill health for example, must be reflected in the prices paid in the marketplace. Green jobs therefore need to be decent work", the report says.

The report recommends a number of pathways to a more sustainable future directing investment to low-cost measures that should be taken immediately. These include assessing the potential for green jobs and addressing skills bottlenecks.

The report finds that green markets have thrived and transformation has advanced most where there has been strong and consistent political support at the highest level, including targets, penalties and incentives such as feed-in laws and efficiency standards for buildings and appliances as well as proactive research and development.

Deep and decisive climate agreement will be vital when countries meet for the crucial UN climate convention meeting in Copenhagen in late 2009, it says, for accelerating green job growth.

The report Green Jobs: Towards Decent work in a Sustainable, Low-Carbon World was commissioned by the UN Environment Programme (UNEP) under a joint Green Jobs Initiative with the International Labour Office (ILO) and others. It was produced by the Worldwatch Institute.