A greener economy could lift millions from poverty by creating 15 million to 60 million green jobs over the next 20 years, according to the International Labour Organization (ILO).
A new study from the ILO says greening the economy could grow many branches of employment: renewable energy, agriculture, transport, recycling, forestry and construction. Depending on the sector, the number of jobs could increase for a variety of reasons … and yield environmental benefits as well.
“Indeed, the environmental and social challenges are inextricably linked,” the report’s introduction states. “Economic growth, job creation and incomes depend on — and can degrade — natural resources and systems. However, they can also restore and enhance environmental sustainability. Given the scale and the urgency of the challenges, it is clear that the world will have neither the resources nor the time to tackle them separately or consecutively. They need to be addressed together, in a comprehensive and complementary manner.”
In the forest sector, green jobs would be increased in sustainable forestry, protecting environmental services and retaining biodiversity. The ILO estimates between 10 million and 17 million jobs in sustainable forestry could be sustained with an annual investment of $36 billion. Of these, some four million to five million jobs would be in reforestation, afforestation (planting new forests) and desertification control.
A greener economy could even fuel economic recovery in the struggling construction industry. Job opportunities would be created by the demand for more energy-efficient buildings in emerging markets and for retrofitting older buildings in industrialized countries, according to the ILO.
Greening social housing programs could also help alleviate poverty by generating savings on home energy costs, which are disproportionately high in poor households.
Green building also boosts employment in recycling and waste management, and green jobs can be created if recycling rates are increased. For example, a 2012 analysis by the Millennium Institute, conducted for the International Trade Union Confederation, found that formalizing the recycling sector in developing countries can reduce poverty among women and children who currently work as waste pickers.
In agriculture, a greener economy could reduce poverty for 400 million small-holder farmers through investments in teaching greener farming techniques and improving rural infrastructure, the ILO study found. More efficient farming methods would minimize environmental impact and, in turn, increase productivity, incomes and food security.
Green jobs have especially strong potential for growth in the renewable energy sector. With many countries around the world adopting renewable energy strategies to reduce fossil-fuel dependence and boost energy security, jobs in this sector have been increasing by 21 percent a year.
While transport is the most rapidly growing source of greenhouse gas emissions, increasing vehicle fuel efficiency and public transport manufacturing can produce green jobs, the ILO points out. The study predicts the emerging electric vehicle market could create a substantial number of green jobs because of the resulting need to modernize and expand electrical grids.
Although a greener economy could boost jobs in many areas, it has the potential to negatively impact others. Fishing, for instance, could feel a sting as fisheries face major reductions on catch to combat overfishing. With 95 percent of the 45 million workers employed in fisheries being poor coastal fisherman, policies to protect biodiversity could temporarily increase poverty for these fishermen, the ILO says.
The ILO adds that achieving growth in green jobs would require new incentive structures, including tax incentives, where the burden is placed on resource consumption and pollution. The employment figures it projects would also require significant investment and emphasis on skills and educational policies to increase employability.
“The current development model has proven to be inefficient and unsustainable, not only for the environment, but for economies and societies as well,” said Juan Somavia, director-general of the ILO. “We urgently need to move to a sustainable development path with a coherent set of policies with people and the planet at the center.”