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Greening the transport sector

Greening the transport sector in the post COVID-19 recovery could create up to 15 million jobs worldwide

Investment in transforming the transport sector could create millions of new jobs and help countries move to greener, healthier economies, says report from the International Labour Organization and the UN Economic Commission for Europe.

Press release | 19 May 2020
GENEVA (ILO News) – The recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic cannot be a return to business as usual. It must be an opportunity to push the advancement of the sustainable development agenda.

A structural transformation of the transport sector will be needed if environmentally sustainable, green economies are to become a reality.

This could lead to the creation of millions of new jobs say the authors of a new study, Jobs in green and healthy transport: Making the green shift.

The report examines the employment implications of four “green transport” scenarios in 56 countries in North America, Europe, the Caucasus and Central Asia, which are members of the UN Economic Commission for Europe (UNECE).

It compares a ‘business-as-usual’ approach with scenario-based projections that run up to 2030. These options envisage an accelerated expansion of public transport and the electrification of private passenger and freight transport.

The study finds that 10 million additional jobs could be created worldwide – 2.9 million in the UNECE region – if 50 per cent of all vehicles manufactured were electric. In addition, almost 5 million new jobs could be created worldwide – 2.5 million in the UNECE region – if UNECE countries doubled investment in public transport.

Other factors that could support job creation outside transport include increased spending on goods and services resulting from a reduction in spending on oil, and measures related to the production and use of energy. The electrification of private passenger and freight transport would also create jobs, particularly if the electricity came from renewable sources.

The report says that greener transport systems produced by changes like these would also result in reduced greenhouse gas emissions, air and noise pollution, and traffic congestion – which could lead to fewer road accidents.

Pursuing the goal of an environmentally sustainable and inclusive society requires a structural transformation of the economy... This structural transformation has the potential to create decent work and protect workers and their families."

Catherine Saget, Team Leader at ILO
“The inland transport sector is key in the economies of our region, both regarding its share of GDP and employment. This study highlights some of the key opportunities to transform the sector and make it greener, healthier and more sustainable,” stressed UNECE Executive Secretary Olga Algayerova. “This report is also a call for governments and the sector itself to make the right choices and invest massively in public transport and green technologies to seize these opportunities,” she added.

“Pursuing the goal of an environmentally sustainable and inclusive society requires a structural transformation of the economy, including both changes in the products and services on offer and production processes. This structural transformation, which would include the transport sector, has the potential to create decent work and protect workers and their families, if it is accompanied by suitable policies,” said Catherine Saget, Team Leader at ILO.

To make the most of the employment opportunities associated with greening the transport sector, the report recommends the implementation of a comprehensive range of policies. These would include skills development, social protection, labour market policies, and the promotion of social dialogue and fundamental rights at work.

The report is co-published by the ILO and UNECE, with the support of the Partnership on Jobs in Green and Healthy Transport of the Transport, Health and Environment Pan-European Programme (The PEP), which brings together the International Labour Organization (ILO), World Health Organization (WHO), the UN Environment Programme (UNEP) and UNECE.

Note to editors

Key figures about the transport sector
  • Transport is a key sector in the global economy (UNEP, 2017). Specifically, land transport accounts for more than 60 million direct jobs around the world, representing over 2 per cent of global employment. By enabling the mobility and connectivity of people and goods, transport sustains the activity of many other sectors across the economy, creating jobs, adding economic value and promoting social inclusion. As such, the transport sector is a key player in advancing the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.
  • In the United States, transport accounted for 9 per cent of GDP in 2015 and employed about 13 million people, or 9 per cent of the labour force, in 2016 (US Department of Transportation, 2018). 
  • In the European Union, almost 12 million people, or more than 5 per cent of the total workforce, worked in the transport and storage services sectors in 2016 (European Commission, 2018). It represents 6.8% of GDP.
  • On average, European households spent 13 per cent of their total expenditure on transport-related items in that year (ibid.).
  • Urban public transport represents around 20 per cent of the output of the transport sector, and some 13 million people worldwide are employed by public transport services (UITP, 2013a).
  • The transport sector also has various adverse impacts on the environment and human health. Thus, it is a major contributor to the emission of greenhouse gases (GHGs) responsible for climate change and also contributes to air pollution, acid rain, eutrophication, crop and forest damage, natural resource depletion, habitat fragmentation and waste generation. The transport sector also poses significant risks to human health through road injury, air and noise pollution, and traffic congestion.Direct GHG emissions from the transport sector account for at least 25% of total emissions (EEA, 2019). 
  • Across UNECE countries, transport’s share of national GHG emissions ranges from under 10 per cent in Kazakhstan to more than 50 per cent in Sweden and Luxembourg (World Bank, 2018).