Environment & Poverty Times
10 11 Job prospects in a low-carbon world
By Michael Renner, Sean Sweeney and Jill Kubit
The pursuit of so-called green jobs will be a key economic driver as the world steps into the uncharted territory of building a low-car- bon global economy. Climate-proofing the economy will involve large-scale investments in new technologies, equipment, buildings and infrastructure, which will provide a major stimulus for much-needed new em- ployment and an opportunity for retaining and transforming existing jobs.
The number of green jobs is already on the rise. Most visible are those in the renewable energy sector, which has seen rapid expan- sion in recent years. Current employment in renewables and supplier industries stands at a conservatively estimated 2.3 million world- wide. The wind power industry employs more than 400,000 people; the solar photovoltaics (PV) sector, an estimated 170,000; and the solar thermal industry, more than 600,000 (mostly in China). The expanding concentrat- ing solar power industry is adding to these numbers. And more than 1 million jobs are found in the biofuels industry – growing and processing a variety of feedstocks to produce ethanol and biodiesel.
Wind and solar are poised for continued rapid expansion. Under favourable invest- ment projections, wind power employment worldwide could reach 2.1 million in 2030, and the solar PV industry might employ as many as 6.3 million people by then. In addition to manufacturing jobs, there will be many jobs in installing and maintaining systems. In Bangladesh, for instance, the spread of solar home systems – which might reach 1 million by 2015 – could eventually create some 100,000 jobs.
Still, many more green jobs than in en- ergy production will eventually be created through the pursuit of more efficient build- ings, machinery, vehicles and appliances.
Construction jobs can be greened by ensuring that new buildings meet high performance standards. This is particularly important in Asia, which is undergoing a construction boom. And retrofitting com- mercial and residential buildings to make them more energy-efficient has huge job potential for construction workers, ar- chitects, energy auditors, engineers and others. For instance, the weatherization of some 200,000 apartments in Germany created 25,000 new jobs and saved 116,000 existing jobs in 2002-04 at a time when the construction industry faced recession. Providing decent and efficient housing in the developing world’s urban agglomera- tions and slums presents an unparalleled job creation opportunity.
Incorporating the very best in fuel efficiency technology would dramatically lessen the environmental footprint of motor vehicles. An assessment of the most efficient cars currently available suggests that relatively green auto manufacturing jobs may today number no more than about 250,000 out of roughly 8 million direct auto sector jobs worldwide. But a concerted push toward much greater efficiency and carbon-free propulsion systems is needed. Likewise, ret- rofitting highly polluting two-stroke engines that are ubiquitous, especially in Asia, to cut their fuel consumption and emissions would create many jobs.
Overall, the reliance on cars and trucks needs to be reduced. Railways offer an alternative, yet many jobs have been lost over the last few decades as rail has been sidelined. In Europe, railway manufactur- ing and operating employment is down to about 1 million. Even in China and India, rail jobs fell from 5.1 million to 3.3 million from 1992 to 2002. A recommitment to rail, as well as to urban public transit, could create many millions of jobs. There are also substantial green employment opportunities in retrofitting old diesel buses to reduce air pollutants and in replacing old equipment with cleaner compressed natural gas (CNG) or hybrid-electric buses. In New Delhi, the introduction of 6,100 CNG buses is expected to create 18,000 new jobs.
Basic industries like steel, aluminium, ce- ment and paper may never be truly green, as they are highly energy-intensive and pollut- ing. But increasing scrap use, greater energy efficiency, and reliance on alternative energy sources may at least render them a pale shade of green – though “a green shade of brown” might be a more appropriate description. Sec- ondary scrap-based steel production requires up to 75% less energy than primary produc- tion. Worldwide, 42% of steel output was based on scrap in 2006, possibly employing more than 200,000 people. Likewise, second- ary aluminium production uses only 5–10% as much energy as primary production. About one quarter of global aluminium production is scrap-based. No global employment num- bers exist for this, but in the United States, Japan, and Europe it involves at least 30,000 jobs. The cement and the paper and pulp industries have similar greening potential, but like the aluminium industry they are relatively small employers.
The number of recycling and remanufactur- ing jobs worldwide is another unknown. In developing countries, paper recycling is often done by an informal network of scrap collectors, sometimes organized into cooperatives in order to improve pay and working conditions. In Cairo, some 70,000 Zabbaleen recycle an estimated 85% of the
materials they collect. Brazil is thought to have some 500,000 recycling jobs. China, with estimates as high as 10 million jobs, trumps all other countries in this area.
The potential for green jobs is immense. To date, however, the green jobs rhetoric still outweighs concrete actions.
For many developing countries, a key con- cern is the future of agriculture and forestry, which often still account for the bulk of employment and livelihoods. Small farms are more labour- and knowledge-intensive than agroindustrial farms, and they use less energy and chemical inputs. Organic farming is still limited, although expand- ing as consumers in Western countries become more conscious about health and environment matters. For the time being, at least, organic products remain a niche market, in part because higher prices limit their affordability. More labour-intensive than industrialized agriculture, this can be a source of additional green employment in the future. A study in the United Kingdom and Ireland showed that organic farms em- ployed one third more full-time equivalent workers than conventional farms do.
Afforestation and reforestation efforts, as well as generally better stewardship of criti- cal ecosystems, could support livelihoods among the more than 1 billion people who depend on forests, often through non-timber forest products. Planting trees creates large numbers of jobs, although these are often seasonal and low paid. Agroforestry – which combines tree planting with traditional farming – offers significant environmental benefits in degraded areas, including carbon sequestration. It has been shown to provide food and fuel security and to create employ- ment and supplementary income for small farmers. Some 1.2 billion people already depend on agroforestry to some extent.
There is additional job potential in dealing with the accumulated environmental ills of the past and improving the ability to cope with the climate change that is already inevitable. Building flood barriers, rehabilitating wet- lands and coastal forests, and efforts to adapt farming to climate change (through conserva- tion tillage, greater water efficiency, etc.) would likely employ large numbers of people.
Green jobs need to be decent jobs – offering good wages and income security, safe work- ing conditions, dignity at work and adequate
workers’ rights. Sadly, this is not always the case today. Recycling work in particular is often precarious and can involve serious occupational health hazards. Growing crops for biofuels at sugarcane and palm oil plan- tations often involves excessive workloads, poor pay, exposure to pesticides and oppres- sion of workers.
To realize the full potential, sustained public and private investments are required, and governments need to establish a firm and predictable policy framework for greening all aspects of the economy. It will also be critical to develop innovative forms of tech- nology transfer to expedite the spread of green methods around the world. In part, this may require new institutions, such as the newly established International Renew- able Energy Agency. However, a fresh look at global trade and intellectual property rules – an assessment whether these rules are consistent with a sustainable economy – will also be necessary. Finally, an expan- sion of green education, training and skill- building programs is crucial. None of these are politically easy tasks. Their completion requires not only visionary and courageous leadership, but also growing public aware- ness and bottom-up pressure.
The potential for green jobs is immense. To date, however, the green jobs rhetoric still outweighs concrete actions on the part of most governments and corporations. Indeed, unsustainable business practices continue to be more prevalent than green success stories. The bulk of economic stimu- lus packages passed in early 2009 attempted to reinvigorate consumption instead of lay- ing the groundwork for a transition toward a greener economy.
Relative to the overall labour market dynam- ics worldwide – the need to create tens of millions of additional jobs each year – green jobs are not yet growing fast enough. There is, in fact, a rising informality in the global economy that runs counter to the goals of green job creation. Seen in this broader context, the green job challenge is less a technical issue (reducing carbon footprints and avoiding other negative environmental impacts) and far more a question of how to restructure the economy so that it truly works for human needs.
About the authors: Michael Renner is a Senior
Researcher at the Washington, DC-based World- watch Institute. Sean Sweeney and Jill Kubit are the Director and Assistant Director, respectively, of Cornell University’s Global Labor Institute in New York City. This article is derived from a 2008 study the authors produced, Green Jobs: Towards Decent Work in a Sustainable, Low-Carbon World, for the joint UNEP/ILO/ITUC/IOE Green Jobs Initiative (available at: http://www.unep.org/labour_envi-
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