Green Jobs: Towards Decent Work In A Sustainable, Low-Carbon World - Real Potential, Formidable Challenges

The report “Green Jobs: Towards Decent Work in a Sustainable, Low-Carbon World” produced in the framework of the UNEP/ILO/IOE/ITUC Green Jobs Initiative assembles evidence - quantitative and conceptual - on existing green jobs. 

It is the first comprehensive and authoritative report which provides an overview of the complexity and policy relevance of global environmental challenges —climate change— and employment. 

It gathers data on employment on different sectors —renewable energy, energy efficiency in buildings, sustainable transportation, and organic agriculture— and draws conclusions and recommendations for policy makers, business and industry, workers and trade unions in the context of the transition towards a low-carbon economy, which may yield a real potential, and yet is faced with formidable challenges. 

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.

The report emphasises the need for increased investment to create green jobs, facilitate the just transition from traditional to low-carbon economy, and further analyses the major shifts in employments and skills patterns.  

© Port of San Diego

The Report makes an important contribution to the wider economic, social and environmental research communities and NGOs and others, including local authorities interested in these issues.

The report commissioned and funded by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), was produced by the Worldwatch Institute, with technical assistance from the Cornell University Global Labour Institute.

Highlights from the report

Globally around 300,000 workers are employed in wind power and more than 100,000 in solar photovoltaic. In China, the U.S. and Europe more than 600,000 are employed in solar thermal—by far most of them in China. Almost 1.2 million workers are estimated to be employed in biomass in just four leading countries, namely Brazil, the U.S., Germany and China. Overall, in countries where data are available, the number of people employed in renewables is presently around 2.3 million. Given the present gaps in information, this is no doubt a very conservative figure. Because of strong rising interest in energy alternatives, the possible total employment for renewables by 2030 is 20 million jobs, half of it in biofuels related agriculture.

© Sam Beebe, Ecotrust

Employment in renewables is driven by a more than six-fold increase in investment from 1998-2007, growing from $10 billion to $66 billion. By 2003, renewables accounted for about one-sixth of world investment in power generation facilities and equipment. Some estimate that investment could quadruple to $210 billion in 2016.

In the building sector and elsewhere in the economy, defining the energy efficiency sector is a vexing problem, since most of the relevant forms of employment are embedded in a broad range of existing industries such as vehicle manufacturing, construction, lighting, heating and cooling equipment, electronics, and appliances, etc. The overall transition to energy efficient buildings world-wide could lead to 10 million of new jobs, and green employment for over 110 million currently employed.

In agriculture and the food system, a green jobs scenario will require policy interventions to overcome a series of formidable obstacles that threatened livelihoods of small farmers; the energy and chemical inputs used in intensive farming; the expansion of certain plantation crops; the growth of intensive livestock systems as a result of rising meat consumption; the globalization of food and “food miles”; the rising market power of large retailers; and the problem of vast amounts of GHG-producing food waste in the developed world.

Investment to create green jobs is one side of the jobs coin; training and skill building is the other. Both are necessary to bring green employment to its full potential. Shortages of skilled labor could put the brakes on green expansion. 

Major shifts in employments patterns and skill profiles are expected. Active labor market policies and broad social protections are therefore essential to ensure a fair and just transition for workers and their communities. This must involve income protection as well as adequate retraining and educational opportunities and, where necessary, resources for relocation.

The real-world challenges to implementing Just Transition policies are formidable. At the global societal level, workers’ rights and decent work are a long way from being installed. These decent work and rights deficits often transmit down to the local level. Economic prosperity and employment depend in fundamental ways on a stable climate and healthy ecosystems. Without timely action, many jobs could be lost due to resource depletion, biodiversity loss, increasing natural disaster impacts, and other disruptions. Climate-proofing the economy will involve large-scale investment in new technologies, equipment, buildings, and infrastructure, representing a major stimulus for much-needed new employment as well as an opportunity for retaining and transforming existing jobs.