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Green Jobs

Environmental sustainability is not a job killer

ILO Green Jobs Programme coordinator, Peter Poschen, outlines the business and job opportunities that could emerge from a shift to a greener economy.

Comment | 27 February 2013
Peter Poschen
As the impact of climate change increases, so does the awareness that we need to transform the global economy to make it greener and more sustainable.

But what will it cost? Is it something developing countries, the worst hit by climate change, can afford?

The answer is yes, if we do it right.

With the correct policies and proper implementation, the shift to a greener economy could produce a double dividend - environmental and social. It has the potential to create a net increase of between 15 million to 60 million additional new jobs over the next two decades, compared to what business as usual would give us. And it could lift tens of millions of workers out of poverty.

But it won’t be easy.

Some jobs and enterprises will be lost, particularly in very carbon-intensive sectors which account for 10- 20 per cent of jobs in most countries.

But new jobs and businesses will emerge as the move to a more environmentally-sustainable economy opens new markets, stimulates eco-innovation and attracts investment.

Most scenarios suggest the net outcome on the labour market will be positive, if the right policies are adopted to drive the transition.

Tens of millions of jobs have already been created by this transformation. Countries as diverse as Germany, Kenya and the Republic of Korea, for example, are investing in harnessing the power of resource and energy efficiency and of renewable energy.

In the European Union alone, there are about 15 million jobs directly or indirectly linked to the protection of biodiversity and rehabilitation of natural resources. In Germany, a building renovation programme for energy efficiency creates about 300,000 direct jobs a year.

Brazil has almost three million jobs – close to 7 per cent of formal employment – in sectors and occupations which lower environmental impacts.

In the United States, about three million people are employed in environmental goods and services sectors.

The impetus is clearly there but there is a need to step up efforts to build national strategies that will simultaneously introduce clean technologies and green jobs.

How long and how painful the transition will be, will depend largely on planning. Developing skills is one of the keys to unlocking the jobs’ potential of a low-carbon economy.

That involves equipping young people today with skills that will be needed tomorrow, and focussing on all education levels, starting with the teaching of environmental awareness to young children.

Skills’ shortages are already holding back the transition in most countries and sectors. In many cases, demand has been underestimated and skills’ training has failed to respond to the needs of green sectors and of occupations which help to green enterprises across the economy.

Government and training providers need to work in close collaboration with industry to ensure curricula keep track of new technologies and occupations – such as eco designers or carbon consultants - as well as in occupations whose job profiles are changing significantly, from building workers to logistics’ managers.
The global youth jobs’ crisis makes the issue all the more pressing. Young people who acquire skills for the green economy hold a strong competitive edge in a tight labour market.

In developing countries, investments in green sectors can breed green start-up enterprises, providing a badly-needed opportunity to create jobs. Entrepreneurship or business training can be a great help in achieving this.

In Kenya, for example, 6,000 young men and women have been reached by a programme that helps develop green entrepreneurship among young people. In Zambia, new jobs and businesses in sustainable building construction are being created to alleviate the housing shortage.

The challenges of moving away from a high-carbon economy are daunting. But it’s an investment we can’t afford not to make.

This article was originally published in the Huffington Post as part of a series highlighting the ILO’s Green Jobs programme.