Adding to our Knowledge of Green Jobs

As official delegations and representatives of civil society head to Brazil for the much-anticipated Rio+20 conference, a question that’s on everyone’s mind is: what does a sustainable economy look like? Naturally, opinions vary. Some see salvation in green growth, others argue that structural, not just technological, change is needed—indeed that fundamental cultural change away from materialism is necessary.

It’s indisputable that a greener economy will amount to little if it does not offer adequate numbers of good-quality jobs. At a time when the world needs to create 600 million jobs over the next decade, when some 200 million people confront unemployment and many others contend with insecure, dangerous, or low-paid work, sustainable and fulfilling livelihoods couldn’t be more important. Growing attention has indeed gone to the notion of “green and decent jobs” in recent years—employment that contributes to preserving and restoring environmental quality.

Metro-North train (Photo via Flickr, by matt.hintsa)

Two recently released studies provide insights and innovative solutions. Worldwatch Senior Researcher Michael Renner contributed to both reports.

The International Labour Organization (ILO) released Working Towards Sustainable Development [PDF] last week.  As part of a multi-author team, Michael contributed chapters on energy, transportation, and recycling.  The report is part of the Green Jobs Initiative, which ILO undertakes jointly with the UN Environment Programme (UNEP), the International Trade Union Confederation, and the International Organization of Employers.

The ILO report outlines key points to a sustainable future: the need to establish a comprehensive policy that uses incentives to target key sectors, such as agriculture, forestry and fisheries, in order to promote a shift to a green economy. Additionally, the report stresses the need to improve employment opportunities, decent work, and incorporate social concerns into sustainable development strategy. In order for society to shift successfully to a new development model, the report states that social dialogue must exist at the center of policy reform.

On June 6, the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA) released Renewable Energy: Jobs & Access, along with a set of twelve country case studies in Asia, sub-Saharan Africa, and Central America.  Michael served as the lead author, working with Hugo Lucas, Rabia Ferroukhi, and Noor Ghazal Aswad from IRENA’s Policy Advice and Capacity Building Directorate.  Rabia, Noor, and Michael also produced a sidebar on renewable energy jobs for the REN21 Renewables Global Status report, to be released on June 11.

Renewable energy installed in Algeria (Photo via Flickr, by Magharebia)

Whereas the ILO report covers green jobs in a broad range of sectors of the global economy, the IRENA study focuses on employment opportunities in providing renewable energy access in rural areas of the developing world—an aspect which to date has received scant attention.  At present, more than 1.3 billion people are without electricity access and another 1 billion have unreliable access.  At least 2.7 billion worldwide lack access to modern fuels, relying instead on highly polluting kerosene or burning biomass, which cause dangerous indoor smoke.

There is considerable employment potential in decentralized renewable energy solutions, including biogas, solar, small-scale hydropower and improved cookstoves.  Although most developing countries do not manufacture renewable energy equipment, jobs can be generated in the distribution, sales, installation, operation, and service of such systems.  The report suggests that reaching the UN goal of providing sustainable energy for all by 2030 could create up to 4 million direct jobs.

Small-scale renewable energy technologies are well adapted to the rural context, and the bulk of skills required for installing and operating them can be developed locally.  Case studies highlight linkages between local job creation and renewable energy, such as integration of the renewable energy sector into local economies, skills and training, gender impacts, and standards and quality assurance measures.

These reports add to the growing library of green jobs assessments.  The ILO report represents a follow-up to Green Jobs: Towards Decent Work in a Sustainable, Low-Carbon World [PDF] published in 2008 by UNEP on behalf of the Green Jobs Initiative.  That report, too, had Worldwatch input.  It was written by Michael together with Sean Sweeney and Jill Kubit of the Cornell University Global Labor Institute.

Further assessments are to come. ILO and IRENA are currently working with the UN Industrial Development Organization on a report that builds on Renewable Energy: Jobs & Access. And Michael is slated to write another report on renewable energy jobs in the context of a growing collaboration between IRENA and ILO.  These reports are significant not only in generating better data on existing and potential green jobs, but also in attempting to improve our understanding of important qualitative aspects.

(Written by Michael Renner, Edited by Supriya Kumar and Antonia Sohns)


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