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Green jobs: towards decent work in a sustainable, low-carbon world

Publication date:
M. Renner
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Amidst a visible period of transition with trade unions, employers’ organisations, the private sector and the UN allying themselves to low-carbon and sustainable thinking, this paper reports on the emergence of a “green economy” and its impact on the world of work in the 21st Century. It shows for the first time at a global level that green jobs are being generated in some sectors and economies. It is explained that there is now a virtual avalanche of reports by international agencies, governments, business, environmental groups and consultancies on the technical and economic implications of climate change and the consequences of mitigation and adaptation strategies. Many declaim a future of green jobs, but few present specifics. This is no accident as there are still huge gaps in knowledge and available data, especially when they pertain to the developing world. 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 - for example, in the manufacturing of pollution-control devices
second, some employment will be substituted - shifting from fossil fuels to renewables, or from truck manufacturing to rail car manufacturing, or from land-filling and waste incineration to recycling
third, certain jobs may be eliminated without direct replacement - for example, 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, and work methods and profiles are greened.

The paper concludes that although much of the present optimism in green jobs is justified, there are many remaining data gaps. Key recommendations around this are that:

governments must establish statistical reporting categories that recognise and help capture relevant employment in both newly emerging industries and green employment in established sectors
as the German government has done, governments should also commission in-depth modeling and econometric efforts to analyse not just direct green jobs but also those that are related in a more indirect manner
business associations and trade unions can play a useful part as well. Some have begun to do job surveys and profiles, but far more of these kinds of efforts are needed
attention needs to be given to disaggregating data on the basis of gender in order to ensure that there is equality of opportunity for women and men for green jobs
greater scrutiny of supply chains is required to better understand just how much many traditional businesses and occupations are positively affected and reinvigorated by the greening of the economy.