Green Jobs: From a gloomy present to a bright, green future?

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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).

 Graph ILO

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.

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