The transformation to a greener economy could generate 15 to 60 million additional jobs globally over the next two decades and lift tens of millions of workers out of poverty, according to a new report led by the joint ILO/UNEP Green Jobs Initiative*.
The report - Working towards sustainable development: Opportunities for decent work and social inclusion in a green economy - says that these gains will depend on whether the right set of policies are put in place.
'We urgently need to move to a sustainable development path with a coherent set of policies with people and the planet at the centre', said ILO Director General Juan Somavia. The forthcoming 'Rio+20' United Nations conference will be a crucial moment to make sure decent work and social inclusion are integral parts of any future development strategy', he added.
Achim Steiner, Executive Director of the UN Environment Programme (UNEP), said: 'This report comes on the eve of World Environment Day on 5 June under the theme Green Economy: Does it Include You?'.
'The findings underline that it can include millions more people in terms of overcoming poverty and delivering improved livelihoods for this and future generations. It is a positive message of opportunity in a troubled world of challenges that we are relaying to capital cities across the globe as leaders prepare and plan for the Rio+20 Summit,' he added.
The report released today - published almost four years after the first study by the Green Jobs Initiative - looks at the impact that the greening of the economy can have on employment, incomes and sustainable development in general.
At least half of the global workforce - the equivalent of 1.5 billion people - will be affected by the transition to a greener economy. While changes will be felt throughout the economy, eight key sectors are expected to play a central role and be mostly affected: agriculture, forestry, fishing, energy, resource-intensive manufacturing, recycling, building and transport.
Tens of millions of jobs have already been created by this transformation. For example the renewable energy sector now employs close to 5 million workers, more than doubling the number of jobs from 2006-2010. Energy efficiency is another important source of green jobs, particularly in the construction industry, the sector hardest hit by the economic crisis.
In the United States, three million people are employed in environmental goods and services. In Spain, there are now more than half a-million jobs in this sector.
Net gains in employment in the order of 0.5 - 2 per cent of total employment are possible. In emerging economies and developing countries, the gains are likely to be higher than in industrialized countries, because the former can leapfrog to green technology rather than replace obsolete resource-intensive infrastructure. Brazil has already created just under three million jobs, accounting for some 7 per cent of all formal employment.
No gains without the right policies
These good results have one thing in common: the recognition that environmental and socio-economic challenges need to be addressed in a comprehensive and complementary manner.
First, this means promoting and implementing sustainable production processes at the level of the business itself, especially among small-and-medium-sized enterprises in the key sectors mentioned above.
Second, an extension of social protection, income support and skills training measures is key to ensuring that workers are in a position to take advantage of these new opportunities.
Third, international labour standards and workers' rights can provide a legal and institutional framework, as well as practical guidance, for work in a greener and sustainable economy, especially when it comes to job quality and occupational safety and health.
Finally, effective social dialogue involving employers and trade unions is central to the governance of sustainable development.
Other key findings of the report:
In the EU alone, 14.6 million direct and indirect jobs exist in the protection of biodiversity and rehabilitation of natural resources and forests.
The targeted international investments of US$ 30 billion/year into reduced deforestation and degradation of forests could sustain up to 8 million additional full-time workers in developing countries.
Experiences from Colombia, Brazil and other countries show that the formalization and organisation of some 15-20 million informal waste pickers could have significant economic, social and environmental benefits.
The building renovation programme for energy efficiency in Germany is an example of the possible win-win-win outcomes: it has mobilized € 100 billion in investments; it is reducing energy bills, avoiding emissions and creating around 300,000 direct jobs per year.
Overuse of natural resources has already caused large losses, including over a million jobs for forest workers, mainly in Asia, because of unsustainable forest management practices.
The fisheries sector is likely to face a major, albeit temporary transition challenge for workers due to overfishing. Temporary reductions of catch may be needed in many fisheries to allow declining stocks to recover. Of particular concern is that 95 per cent of the 45 million workers employed in fishing are often poor artisanal coastal fishermen in developing countries.
In much of Asia, Africa, Latin America and parts of Europe, the proportion of expenditure on energy by poor households is three times - and can be as much as 20 times - that of richer households.
The National Rural Employment Guarantee Act in India and the social housing and 'green grants' programmes in Brazil are good examples of social protection policies that contribute to sustainable development.
Women could be among the main beneficiaries of a greener, more socially inclusive economy, with better access to opportunities to jobs, for example in renewable energy, higher incomes, in particular in agriculture, formalization of employment, notably among the 15-20 million recycling workers and many burdens reduced among other from access to clean energy, enhanced food security, energy and water efficient social housing.
A mere 8-12 per cent of the workforce in industrialized countries, for example, is employed in the 10-15 industries generating 70-80 per cent of CO2 emissions. Only a fraction of these is likely to lose their jobs if policies are adopted to green existing enterprises and to promote employment.
The Report stresses that sustainable development with social inclusion and a transition to a greener economy is indispensable, but the time frame is short. To this end, the report lays out a wealth of policy lessons, good practices and successful programs, many on a large scale.
It demonstrates that a green economy with more and better jobs, poverty reduction and social inclusion is both necessary and possible. The earlier the transition to sustainable development and to a greener economy starts, the more this transition can be managed to avoid the economic and social cost of disruptive change and to seize the opportunities for economic and social development.