From a gloomy present to a bright, green future?

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The media are full of doom and gloom about the economic situation around the world. Is there a silver lining to the dark clouds hanging over the economy and the other threats we face like climate change and a global food crisis? Some organizations think that green jobs and a global green new deal could be a way out and actually turn the crisis into an opportunity to build a better future. Peter Poschen, Senior Advisor, Sustainable Development & Climate Change, Policy Integration Department from the International Labour Organization (ILO) gave us more information on the ILO’s green jobs initiative.
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#QUOTE:”The primary goal of the ILO today is to promote opportunities for women and men to obtain decent and productive work, in conditions of freedom, equity, security and human dignity.” – Juan Somavia, ILO Director-General

Mr Poschen, what is your role?
My role is to help develop and roll out an ILO programme based on the Green Jobs Initiative launched by the Director-General at the International Labour Conference in 2007 in his report on ‘Decent work for sustainable development’. One section is on climate change as an emerging global challenge as we believe it will have major repercussions on enterprises and the labour market.

What is your definition of decent work and green jobs ?
Decent work is a combination of four characteristics.

  • Productive employment providing decent income but at least the ability to earn a living wage
  • Adequate levels of social security
  • Respect for workers’ rights, including the right to organise and bargain collectively
  • The right to participate in decisions which affect workers own lives through organisation and representation, from the workplace to the international level.

These characteristics apply to all workers in all countries and sectors, even if the levels of incomes or social security considered adequate may vary from country to country.

Green jobs are decent jobs as defined above that also play a role in reducing the environmental footprint or production and consumption, in terms of raw material inputs needed, energy usage, greenhouse gas emissions, pollution and waste or jobs which help restore the functioning of ecosytems.

As an example, readily identifiable green jobs include individuals who install windmills or photovoltaic power generators which are clean, renewable sources of energy. There are also what you could call the unsung heroes of greener economies. These are less visible, but equally important green jobs which include diverse profiles such as facilities managers helping reduce heating and lighting consumption; IT managers not buying equipment with standby functions; and even bankers encouraging clients to invest in specific energy efficiency in buildings or factories. These will play a crucial role in making the entire economy more environmentally sustainable, not just green sectors. We also include jobs helping countries to adapt to climate change like those in public works programmes in the Caribbean creating coastal defences against hurricanes and preventing flooding from tropical downpours.

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Is the ILO looking at public and private sector initiatives?
Governments play a key role in bringing about this transformation. Businesses have to generate a return on investment and the true cost of what damage their activities cause needs to be internalised so environmentally harmful products and services do not have an unfair advantage over green ones.

There should be a carbon price built into everything which emits carbon or greenhouse gases. This is happening in more and more countries through a carbon tax or a combination of a tax with a cap-and-trade system whereby a limited number of emission permits is auctioned to emitting enterprises. Firms can then chose to purchase the permit or to reduce their emissions. The volume of permits offered is steadily reduced, bringing down the total amount of emissions.

Most investments are of course made by the private sector – enterprises, but also individual homeowners. They include installation of renewable energy, clean and efficient manufacturing, zero-emission buildings or organic food production. This means that green jobs are definitely part of the mainstream economy.

Once you have more demand for renewables and energy efficiency, you get economies of scale which bring you closer to a level playing field in terms of cost to consumers. What appears now as a higher cost for renewables, for example, will later be a lot more on a par with the cost of conventional fuels as the cost for renewables fall thanks to large production batches and improved technology. On the other hand, the cost of fossil fuels will rise because the cost of climate change and of damage to human health will be better reflected in the price. This is already happening. Wind energy is among the cheapest sources of electricity in a number of countries, including the United States.

We are going through an economic crisis. How do you see it affecting the roll-out of green jobs?

We are at a key juncture. This could become a tipping point towards a greener future as we are reaching the limits of the environment’s capacity. It will depend on how the trillions of dollars in economic stimulus packages are invested.

The legacy of this crisis could be the first step in the direction of an environmentally more sustainable and socially more inclusive economy. President Obama’s recovery package includes all the key components. We could get a big boost for mass transportation, reduce traffic congestion, have better energy distribution through a smart power grid and a higher share of energy supply from renewables as well as reducing the federal governments’ energy bill by weatherizing and equipping public buildings with energy efficient appliances. Green jobs can be made part of the recovery plans which are a response to the crisis.

Are there any predictions as to the numbers of green jobs which could be created as a crisis response?
A study was published in September 2008 by the Political Economy Research Institute of University of Massachusetts. As a basis, they took a $100billion stimulus package spread over 2 years (equivalent to what the Bush government did last year through tax rebates). They considered a green package of investments, like energy efficiency retrofits in buildings, renewables, mass transport etc and estimated it would create 2 million jobs over 2 years in the US – the US economy had lost about this number of jobs so far by November 2008 and that number has more than doubled since. The important point is that the green package creates at least 25 per cent more jobs than tax rebates and four times as many as investments in additional petroleum production. Sustaining these jobs created through a stimulus package would then depend on setting up the right regulations and incentives.

Buildings generally account for 35-40% of all energy consumption and so the challenge is to make them more energy efficient. There are many potential jobs in this sector because efficiency gains come mostly from renovation of existing buildings which is profitable but labour intensive. For instance, France has already adopted policies to promote investment in green jobs. For 2007, they generated a market worth over 30 billion euros and created some 220 000 direct new green jobs. Half of those are in the building sector, the balance in public transport and in manufacturing equipment for renewables and low emission cars.

Are there any factors which limit the type/range and geographical distribution of green jobs ? Are they solely for the developed world or can the developing world benefit as well ?

In the developed world, it is still limited in terms of countries. More countries have to include a green job focus in their national policies. Denmark has the highest renewable energy proportion of total energy supply of any country by far. Some others are following. In Germany, by 2020, there will be more green manufacturing jobs in the wind, solar and photovoltaic sectors than in either the car or the machine manufacturing industry. At the same time, predictions for 2030 have 20 million people working in the renewable energy sector worldwide (see figure 1 below).
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Among the emerging economies, China has been growing at an incredible speed and they have massively invested in renewables to limit the increase carbon emissions and to enhance energy security. China is a world leader in production volumes for most forms of renewable energy. Energy efficiency is a national priority and they have done much more than any industrialized country at the same level of income per capita, government and private sector included. Brazil is exemplary in recycling and has pioneered effective public transport systems. The country is now looking at the potential in protecting and rehabilitating forests.

In the developing world, Bangladesh is a fascinating example. The public and private sectors believe green jobs can dramatically change the lives of people, creating many opportunities for small enterprises. The Grameen Bank has installed several hundred thousand solar panels purchased by poor rural households with the help of a micro finance programme.

How do you see the change in perception?
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It takes time to convince people that there is something which can be done. Take the findings of a survey by the WBCSD (World Business Council for Sustainable Development): owners, architects and engineers people think it is 30% more expensive to build an energy-efficient house when the actual cost is 5 to 10% more. In addition, you have a very reasonable pay back period. We need to disseminate information better and to encourage a long term vision and perception.

India has seen an enormous shift in thinking in terms of how it sees its future.18 months ago the Indian government said it was not cost-effective to do anything about emissions. A recent study by the Indian TERI Institute study predicts that India’s economy could grow at 8% per year, have a population of 1.4 billion in 2030 and provide electricity to all citizens, while keeping per capita emissions below 2 tons per person per year. If this was a world average, we would be doing fine. Not only does TERI say it is feasible, this kind of technological ‘leapfrogging’ would be cheaper for India to do rather than conducting business as usual.

Does the ILO or your department get directly involved in strategic plans to manage the skills gaps or do you advise governments on how to cope with the skills gap?

Our role is to raise awareness amongst our members, who are governments, workers and employers organisations and their representatives (trade unions) from more than 180 countries. Our Director-General gave a speech to the G8 Labour Ministers on green jobs to encourage them to become active in this field. We also work on a rapidly growing number of pilots and demonstration-type activities and help countries develop programs and partnerships. For example, in China, there is an ILO programme for small enterprises and entrepreneurs. We are building the question of energy efficiency into the training modules for entrepreneurs to get more leverage from this multiplier activity.

We are also working with the European Commission on a study of skills needs related to green jobs and ways of addressing these skills gaps to train people before the need arises.

With the UN environment programme, UNEP, we are fleshing out the concept of the Global Green New Deal. We will have a joint study on green job and economies, country by country, sector by sector, looking at economically viable and feasible investments, helping governments to formulate these, and then assessing their environmental & social benefits.

In February 2009, we held a training session on green jobs for government and worker representatives from major Asian countries in our international training center in Italy. We will be following up on how it can help them identify opportunities for developing green jobs.

What do you see as being the biggest challenge ?
Our unit is trying to generate policy coherence to achieve a complex set of objectives and create a sustainable development path. We believe the right way to solve the current financial crisis would be to jump-start the greening of economies, creating many green jobs in the short-term while setting them on a much more sustainable medium and long term path.

The Obama policy has an immediate and long-term component to it. There is a 10 year investment program in changing energy generation patterns in the USA while doing everything possible in the short term to help this along. The package also extends social security coverage for unemployed and those without health insurance and maintains access to education for all, including a $500 training programme on ‘green collar’ jobs. We believe this is the right approach.

So the ILO can see a positive side to the Credit crisis, in terms of it having the potential for change?
Yes, minds are being focussed on this green issue though we are not sure if the battle is won yet. Some countries are taking initiatives, such as the USA, several european countries, Korea (which has a national recovery plan called the ‘Green New Deal’) and China, which has the biggest green component in its recovery package in absolute terms. But there are other countries which are still perpetuating the status quo. Our objective is to convince them to change their focus and meet these many challenges.

What is the timetable for an organised response around the world ?
There is a United Nations strategy on climate change supporting the adoption of a decisive new agreement in Copenhagen this December. In the meantime, the UN is also preparing a concerted response to the economic crisis and in this context the Secretary-General has called for a green new deal. Major decisions are being taken now. We have to act now for a green future.
The Green Jobs Initiative is a joint initiative by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), the International Labour Organization (ILO), the International Employers Organization (IOE) and the International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC). It aims to assess, analyze and promote the creation of decent jobs as a consequence of necessary environmental policies. It supports a concerted effort by governments, employers and trade unions to promote environmentally sustainable jobs and development in a climate-challenged world.
Work under the Green Jobs Initiative so far has focussed on collecting evidence and different examples of green jobs creation, resulting in a major comprehensive study on the impact of an emerging green economy on the world of work.
The second phase of the Green Jobs Initiative will move from information gathering and analysis to assistance in policy formulation through active macro-economic and sectoral assessment of potential green jobs creation and implementation as part of the ILO’s Decent Work Country Programmes.–en/index.htm


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