A post-COVID-19 win-win for people and planet
A story by Niklas Hagelberg and Mark Radka, UNEP
As large parts of the world hunker down and social distance to slow the spread of the coronavirus pandemic, more and more research is being released and studied suggesting that we can build back better to create a healthy, resilient, prosperous, just, and decarbonized world after the current crisis dies down.
Employment opportunities are a key consideration in planning for low-carbon economic growth. The widespread adoption of renewable energy technologies creates employment opportunities up and down the supply chain. Worldwide, the sector employed 11 million people at the end of 2018, according to the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA).
Advancing a renewable-based energy transformation, it says, is an opportunity to meet international climate goals while boosting economic growth, creating millions of jobs, and improving human welfare.
“Post COVID-19 fiscal stimulus packages provide an opportunity for initiating a transformational and green recovery with the creation of green jobs,” says United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) energy and climate expert Mark Radka.
The IRENA study, Renewable Energy and Jobs – Annual Review 2019, finds that transforming the energy system could boost cumulative global Gross Domestic Product gains above business-as-usual by US$ 98 trillion between now and 2050. It would nearly quadruple renewable energy jobs to 42 million, expand employment in energy efficiency to 21 million, and add 15 million in system flexibility.
While leading markets like China, the United States and the European Union hosted the greatest concentration of jobs in renewables, other Asian countries have emerged as exporters of solar photovoltaic (PV) panels, the report notes.
Employment remains concentrated in a handful of countries—with Brazil, China, India, the United States, and members of the European Union in the lead—but the increasingly diverse geographic footprint of energy-generation capacities and, to a lesser degree, assembly and manufacturing plants, has created jobs in a rising number of countries.
SOLAR PHOTOVOLTAIC—THE TOP EMPLOYER
Solar PV remained the top employer among renewable energy technologies in 2018, accounting for a third of the sector’s workflow. Asia hosted over 3 million PV jobs, or nearly nine-tenths of the global total.
Rising output pushed biofuel jobs up 6 per cent to 2.1 million. Brazil, Colombia, and Southeast Asia have labour-intensive supply chains, whereas operations in the United States and the European Union are far more mechanized.
Employment in wind power supports 1.2 million jobs. Onshore projects predominate, but the offshore segment is gaining traction and could build on expertise and infrastructure in the offshore oil and gas sector.
Hydropower has the largest installed capacity of all renewables but is now expanding slowly. The sector employs 2.1 million people directly, three-quarters of whom are in operations and maintenance.
Off-grid renewables—along with expanding electricity access—have contributed to job creation across Africa and Asia.
WHAT DETERMINES EMPLOYMENT GROWTH IN RENEWABLES?
Several factors shape how and where employment is generated along the renewable energy supply chain. These include governmental policies; the diversification of supply chains; trade patterns; and industry reorganization and consolidation trends. Aside from these factors, labour productivity grows in importance over time.
QUALITY AND INCLUSION
As important as it is to shed light on the quantity of jobs created in renewable energy, job quality is a critical aspect.
A well-paying job that requires well-honed skills and is performed in a safe, rewarding workplace is a greater multiplier of socioeconomic benefits than one that pays little, carries few benefits, or is temporary.
Employment also needs to be inclusive, providing opportunities for people with different talents and skills, and ensuring that no population group, such as women, is systematically excluded.
WIDENING THE TALENT POOL
The global shift to renewables demands a growing array of skills—technical, business, administrative, economic and legal, among others. Widening the talent pool is thus a pragmatic reason for boosting the participation of women in renewable energy.
The report found that because of its multidisciplinary dimension, the renewable energy field appeals to women in ways that the fossil fuel industry does not. Women currently represent 32 per cent of the renewable energy workforce, substantially higher than the 22 per cent average reported for the global oil and gas industry.
Overcoming gender gaps in electricity access advances several Sustainable Development Goals. Access to clean, affordable, renewable energy also lowers barriers to women’s market employment (IEA, IRENA, UNSD, WB, WHO, 2019).
“Renewable energy provides an opportunity for `building back better’, creating green jobs, facilitating the transition to carbon neutral economies, and protecting ourselves from future global threats, including pandemics,” says UNEP climate change expert Niklas Hagelberg. “Humanity depends on action now for a resilient and sustainable future.”
Learn More: UN Environment Programme
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