Beyond the Banks: Bail Out the Environment, Create Jobs
Washington, D.C.-As capital markets around the world are being rescued by national governments, global unemployment is reaching record levels and the labor market is expanding by tens of millions of workers each year. In the face of the twin challenges of stagnating economies and climate change, stimulating green industry is more important than ever, according to a new assessment released by the Worldwatch Institute.
"It's time for a bailout for the environment: one that creates jobs, is global in scope, and can help rebuild communities amidst the ashes of the current economic crisis," says Michael Renner, co-author of the report, Green Jobs: Working for People and the Environment, written in collaboration with Sean Sweeney and Jill Kubit of Cornell University's Global Labor Institute.*
Green jobs are not only about renewable energy employment. Reengineering buildings, transportation systems, agriculture, and basic industry all have the potential to create jobs that help reduce humanity's carbon footprint and protect the environment. The report provides an overview of green jobs by sector:
- In China, renewable energy technologies employ an estimated 1 million people in the wind, solar PV, solar thermal, and biomass industries.
- The building and construction sector employs more than 111 million people worldwide. Retrofitting the European Union's residential building sector to cut carbon dioxide emissions by 75 percent would lead to some 2.6 million new jobs by 2030.
- Jobs in manufacturing fuel-efficient cars remain limited in number. Public transit offers a greener alternative. In the United States, transit agencies employed some 367,000 people in 2005. An estimated 900,000 people are employed in urban public transport in the European Union.
- The steel, aluminum, cement, and paper industries are highly energy-intensive and polluting. Worldwide, more than 40 percent of steel output and one-quarter of aluminum production is based on recycled scrap, rendering the estimated quarter million jobs in these two sectors at least a "shade of green."
- Recycling programs create as many as 15 million jobs worldwide, but can entail dirty, undesirable, poorly paid, and even dangerous work, particularly in developing countries. In Brazil, over 90 percent of recyclable material is collected by scrap collectors who have organized themselves into a national movement with 500 cooperatives and 60,000 collectors.
- A study of 1,144 organic farms in the United Kingdom and the Republic of Ireland showed that organic farms employed on average one-third more employees per farm than conventional counterparts. In the Dominican Republic, organic farms are reducing the movement from rural to metropolitan areas with local employment opportunities.
- Nearly 1.2 billion people depend on agroforestry for subsistence and income, particularly in Africa, Asia, and Latin America. Planting trees on agricultural land provides multiple environmental benefits and can raise farm incomes.
Addressing the climate challenge in particular requires a multipronged approach that can create jobs, according to the report. This approach prioritizes the development of more environmentally benign technologies; greater efficiency of energy, water, and raw material use; altered lifestyle and consumption choices; economic restructuring; and environmental restoration efforts. It also requires adaptation to those changes that now seem inevitable and perhaps irreversible.
While there is significant untapped potential in the green jobs sector, not all news is good, according to the report. Global unemployment stands at roughly 6 percent, affecting some 190 million people. Some 487 million workers do not earn enough yet to rise above the $1-a-day level of extreme poverty. Furthermore, green investments are found primarily in a relatively small number of countries. Green jobs development is still an exception in most developing countries, which account for some 80 percent of the world's workforce.
Other issues include the rising level of informality in the global economy, a lack of rules and standards to help ensure decent jobs, and the fact that environmental costs are too often externalized, making it harder for green enterprises to compete.
Integrating social and environmental aspects into the cost of doing business and undertaking large-scale public and private sector investments will be key to realizing the massive potential that green jobs hold. Government targets, mandates, business incentives, and reformed tax and subsidy policies must promote sustainable development in order for the green labor market to take off.
"Given all of the uncertainties in today's world, it's time for a bold commitment and international cooperation to promote green economies that support conservation, low carbon technologies, recycling, and local communities," says Renner. "I can't see how we'll escape our twin economic and environmental crises if we don't."
* The report is derived from a longer, in-depth study, Green Jobs: Towards Decent Work in a Sustainable, Low-Carbon World, commissioned for a joint initiative of the United Nations Environment Programme, the International Labour Organization, the International Trade Union Confederation, and the International Organisation of Employers. It is available for download at www.unep.org/labour_environment/features/greenjobs-report.asp.