Green jobs: good for you, for the environment and for the economy
The transition to a decarbonised economy is not only essential to halting climate change, but is also a driver of economic growth with the potential to create millions of green jobs. We are talking about jobs aimed directly at protecting the environment or which seek to minimise impact on the health of the planet.
According to the Emissions Gap Report 2021, published by the United Nations (UN), the current insufficient climate commitments put the world on track for a global temperature increase of at least 2.7°C by the end of the century. This is well above the 1.5°C estimated in the Paris Agreement. As the report explains, the world needs to halve annual greenhouse gas emissions over the next eight years to succeed in limiting the effects of global warming. Net zero emissions pledges, if fully met, could make progress in reducing the projected global temperature increase to 2.2°C, closer to the Agreement, but below the 2°C expected. Otherwise, there is a risk that the frequency and intensity of the disastrous climate impacts that have shaken the planet in recent years will increase.
In light of the situation, humankind needs to speed up the transition toward a decarbonised economy which respects the environment. Such a transition not only has the potential to halt climate change, but also to become a real driver of growth by creating numerous green jobs in a great number of sectors, something that has been happening in the last few years in rich and emerging economies alike.
The circular economy, which involves reusing, repairing or recycling, increasing sustainable manufacturing and consumption, will also create green jobs. As well as reducing waste, the circular economy will save energy and contribute to preventing irreversible damage in terms of the climate, biodiversity and air, ground and water pollution caused by our exploitation of resources at a rate faster than the planet can replace them.
What are green jobs and what is their impact on the economy
In the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) green jobs are defined as "positions in agriculture, manufacturing, R&D, administrative, and service activities aimed at substantially preserving or restoring environmental quality". In other words, environmental jobs are those aimed at protecting and promoting the environment, or those which consider their impact on the health of the planet at all times and endeavour to minimise it. According to the International Labour Organization (ILO), this type of job:
Increases efficient consumption of energy and raw materials.
Limits greenhouse gas emissions.
Minimises waste and contamination.
Protects and restores ecosystems.
Contributes to adaptation to climate change.
Another benefit of these green jobs is their effect on the global economy. The ILO has warned that, if nothing changes, growth in future employment will be insufficient to satisfy the growth in the workforce in emerging and developing countries. However, "changes in production and use of energy to achieve the 2 °C target may lead to the creation of around 18 million jobs in the world economy", explains this organisation in its report World Employment and Social Outlook 2018. These changes, aimed at complying with the Paris Agreement and generating green jobs, will include more extensive use of energy from renewable sources, the growth of electric vehicles and carrying out construction works to achieve energy efficiency in buildings.
Booming sectors with green jobs
As a consequence of the decarbonisation of the economy and the development of the circular economy, professions of future will be created, with existing jobs adapting to the new green reality. According to the experts, these are the sectors with the most potential to create green jobs:
The COVID-19 pandemic had a major impact on the global economy for most of 2020 and 2021, affecting both the volume and structure of energy demand. Employment, including in this sector, has been profoundly affected by the different types of restrictions applied, which put pressure on supply chains and resulted in considerable limitation of economic activity. Despite this, the renewable energy sector will reach 12 million jobs in 2021, compared to 11.5 million in 2019, according to the eighth edition of the "Renewable Energy and Employment Report: Annual Review 2021".
According to the report published in 2022 by the Organic Farming Research Institute (FiBL), sales of organic food and beverages increased by 15% globally. Revenues surpassed the $100 billion annual mark in 2018 and in just two years, the market expanded to $129 billion. The historic growth seen in 2020 was a result of both the impact of the pandemic and increased consumer interest in organic food.
North America and Europe comprise the majority of sales, with a combined share of 90%. However, most of the growth is coming from other regions, especially Asia as organic food markets have gained importance in countries such as China, India and South Korea.
European policies require increasingly high recycling rates and establish ever-stricter ecodesign criteria. This fact, added to many consumer' environmental awareness, have made ecodesign — from packaging to building roofs and myriad products — a booming source of jobs.
In a society increasingly concerned with the health of the planet, ecological tourism — or ecotourism — is a rising trend. This sector creates jobs related to activities such as design of adventure experiences, the creation of high mountain trails and the discovery of protected areas, as well as the renewal of rural areas, such as ecovillages, at risk of disappearance.
This sector is responsible for more than 30% of CO2 emissions in the European Union (EU), 72% of which come from road transport. Many countries have already adopted measures to drastically reduce transport emissions. The EU will cut these by 60% compared to 1990 levels for 2050, creating job opportunities in the electric vehicles sector, public transport and electrified railway good haulage.
What type of training is required?
Due to the wide range of green jobs available today, there is no single training profile for those known as green collar workers. Other than degrees, courses and postgraduate courses specialising in ecology, green training for a specific job consists of environmental specialisation within a sector.
People who work designing packaging, for example, must have a command of environmentally friendly materials. Likewise, a lawyer interested in protecting nature must specialise in environmental law and an engineer wanting to work in the energy sector will have to specialise in everything to do with renewable energy, energy efficiency and decarbonisation of the economy.