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Green Jobs: Key Drivers to Green Economy

The trajectory of the Green Jobs and Green Economy will depend on a wide range of factors and actors. Governments, as well as the private sector will play a key role. Changes in the decisions, practices and behaviors of millions of managers, workers and consumers will be needed. This article attempts to contribute the necessary awareness about Green Jobs and a green economics to help make those changes happen.

Until now, there has been much anecdotal evidence indicating that the pattern of employment is indeed changing – and that new jobs are beginning to emerge in favor of greener, cleaner and more sustainable occupations. For the first time at global level green jobs are being generated in some sectors and economies.

This is in large part as a result of climate change and the need to meet emission reduction targets under the UN climate convention. This has led to changing patterns of investment flows – flows into areas from renewable energy generation up to energy efficiency projects at the household and industrial level.

The bulk of documented growth in Green Jobs has so far occurred mostly in developed countries, and some rapidly developing countries like Brazil and China. Green Jobs are also beginning to be seen in other developing economies. A project in Bangladesh, training local youth and women as certified solar technicians and as repair and maintenance specialists, aims to create some 100,000 jobs. In India, an initiative to replace inefficient biomass cooking stoves in nine million households with more advanced ones could create 150,000 jobs. It now appears that a green economy can generate more and better jobs everywhere and that these can be decent jobs.

Despite such optimism, it is clear that urgent action is needed. In some areas, especially in the developing world, new jobs being created in the food, agriculture and recycling sectors as a result of climate change and environment leave much to be desired and can hardly be considered as decent. Climate change is also having a negative impact on jobs in some areas. Sectors consuming large amounts of energy and natural resources are likely to see a decline in jobs. Climate change is already damaging the livelihoods of millions, mostly poor people in developing countries. Thus, just transitions to new opportunities and sustainable jobs and incomes are needed for those affected.

The future trajectory of the Green Jobs and Green Economy will, therefore, depend on a wide range of factors and actors. Governments, as well as the private sector will play a key role. Changes in the decisions, practices and behaviors of millions of managers, workers and consumers will be needed. This article attempts to contribute the necessary awareness about Green Jobs and a green economics to help make those changes happen.

Defining Green Jobs

There is now, more so than ever, a new urgency to countering the challenge of global warming – a calamitous development in its own right and a phenomenon that further aggravates existing environmental challenges. There is now a virtual avalanche of reports by international agencies, governments, business, labor unions, environmental groups, and consultancies on the technical and economic implications of climate change as well as the consequences of mitigation and adaptation strategies. Many declaim a future of green jobs – but few present specifics. This is no accident. There are still huge gaps in our knowledge and available data, especially as they pertain to the developing world.

There are currently existing green jobs in key economic sectors (renewable energy, buildings and construction, transportation, basic industry, agriculture, and forestry) and there are opportunities for further expansion of future green employment. The pace of green job creation is likely to accelerate in the years ahead. A global transition to a low-carbon and sustainable economy can create large numbers of green jobs across many sectors of the economy, and indeed can become an engine of development. Current green job creation is taking place in both the rich countries and in some of the major developing economies.

Green jobs are defined  as work in agricultural, manufacturing, research and development (R&D), administrative, and service activities that contribute substantially to preserving or restoring environmental quality. Specifically, but not exclusively, this includes jobs that help to protect ecosystems and biodiversity; reduce energy, materials, and water consumption through high efficiency strategies; de-carbonize the economy; and minimize or altogether avoid generation of all forms of waste and pollution.

From a broad conceptual perspective, employment will be affected in at least four ways as the economy is oriented toward greater sustainability:

  • First, in some cases, additional jobs will be created – as in the manufacturing of pollution-control devices added to existing production equipment.
  • Second, some employment will be substituted – as in shifting from fossil fuels to renewables, or from truck manufacturing to rail car manufacturing, or from landfilling and waste incineration to recycling.
  • Third, certain jobs may be eliminated without direct replacement – as when packaging materials are discouraged or banned and their production is discontinued.
  • Fourth, it would appear that many existing jobs (especially such as plumbers, electricians, metal workers, and construction workers) will simply be transformed and redefined as day-to-day skill sets, work methods, and profiles are greened.

Green jobs span a wide array of skills, educational backgrounds, and occupational profiles. This is especially true with regard to so-called indirect jobs – those in supplier industries. Even for new industries like wind and solar power, supply chains consist largely of very traditional industries. For instance, large amounts of steel are incorporated into a wind turbine tower.

Technological and systemic choices offer varying degrees of environmental benefit and different types of green employment. Pollution prevention has different implications than pollution control, as does climate mitigation compared with adaptation, efficient buildings vis-à-vis retrofits, or public transit versus fuel-efficient automobiles. These choices suggest that there are “shades of green” in employment: some are more far-reaching and transformational than others.

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