At global level, the Covid-19 health crisis during the first half of 2020 has had significant impact on the labour force, with estimates of around 200 million skilled and unskilled jobs being lost across industries. In a way, this crisis has shaken some fundamentals in business as usual (BAU) scenarios. It has quickly bolstered momentum for climate action by providing governments, corporates and individuals with strong arguments (both from a business case perspective, as well as from a moral viewpoint) to steer financial support and capacity building towards the ‘greening’ of economic recoveries along pathways that are consistent with the targets of the Paris Agreement. While not all countries are responding in the same way, a critical component of green recovery programmes is ensuring that actions contribute to the creation of ‘green’ jobs.
The International Labour Organisation (ILO) defines green jobs as“decent jobs that contribute to preserve or restore the environment, be they in traditional sectors such as manufacturing and construction or in new, emerging green sectors such as renewable energy and energy efficiency”. These positions can provide services that are directly beneficial to the environment, such as constructing a green building, upgrading or building zero-carbon transport infrastructure, or working in clean-tech. Alternatively, they can contribute more indirectly to an environmentally friendly process, such as improving recycling system or in product designs that are circular and can be reused or repurposed. Yet a standardised and consistent definition has not been agreed upon. This makes data collection on the nature and scope of green jobs difficult. It may also be more useful to conceive of green jobs as part of a continuum, rather than a dichotomy, where ‘greenness’ is a proxy for the time, knowledge and efforts devoted to green activities relative to non-green activities. Consequently, green jobs can exist at three levels: jobs that carry out primarily green tasks (e.g. environmental engineers); occupations where environmental work tasks are part of a broader set of activities (e.g.electrical engineers); and jobs that engage with environmental tasks only occasionally (e.g. construction workers). This perspective can allow us to infer that almost all occupations can potentially engage in green activities – albeit to varying degrees – and that the transformation to a green economy requires a widespread transformation throughout economic systems and organisations, for both demand and supply, to a point that enables the greening of activities in all three levels.
A significant portion of green jobs exists within the energy sector, specifically renewable energy but also in construction, manufacturing and professional services, and scientific and technical services. In 2017, the renewable energy sector created over 500,000 new jobs worldwide. Renewable energy jobs include occupations in wind, solar, hydro, biomass, and geothermal. Activities undertaken as part of these positions can include surveying and mapping, technical consulting, geo-ecological services, lawyers, accountants and financial services, electrical, mechanical and project engineers, construction, marketing, sales, transportation, permitting, installation, quality assurance and maintenance.
Green jobs in the energy sector also cover energy efficiency and involve jobs relating to reducing energy intensity in buildings, appliances and transport. These include heating and air-conditioning mechanics and installers, plumbers and pipe fitters, roofers, manufacturers of energy efficient products, manufactures that use recycled products as inputs, public transportation workers, workers making and selling electric and hybrid cars or car parts, and workers building and maintaining a more resilient energy grid.
Green jobs can also relate to environmental management. These include recycling material collectors, septic and sewer pipe cleaners and remediation, conservationists, environmental engineers, water and waste treatment operators, forest management and park workers, environmental educators, regulators, compliance workers and legislators. At present, however, green jobs tend to be geographically concentrated in areas with higher levels of per capita income, higher probabilities of hosting high-tech clusters and public research and development labs, a stronger propensity to innovate, and higher-than-average shares of employment in high-tech manufacturing and knowledge-intensive services. In these areas, there are more high-skilled green jobs than low-skilled.
Those are interesting findings that inform the need to enhance North-South and South-South knowledge exchanges, through dedicated capacity building, knowledge management systems, and technical know-how transfers. This can be especially useful in developing countries where the domestic labour context tends to be low- to medium- skilled, abundant and often ad-hoc.
In the ASEAN context, ASEAN has recently put an emphasis on promoting green jobs regionally; the organisation signed the ASEAN Declaration on Promoting Green Jobs for Equity and Inclusive Growth of ASEAN Community in 2018. The focal areas include renewable energy, agriculture, construction, energy, forestry, manufacturing, transport, waste management organisation, tourism, industry and technology. This objective has been of particular importance inMalaysia, who has pledged to increase green employment domestically and inASEAN.
The agriculture industry, followed by the services industry, makes up a large proportion of employment in ASEAN. The solar sector in ASEAN has done well in recent years, especially in Vietnam, Thailand and Malaysia, with the latter looking to be the region’s biggest solar employer. Singapore, the Philippines and Cambodia have also been working to increase their solar capacity, with future potential for the promotion of green jobs via green solar energy infrastructure development.