Climate Change Presents Opportunities for New Industries

As representatives from more than 180 countries gather in Bali to map a post 2012 agreement, new research shows the challenge of climate change also presents opportunities for new industries and employment.

"Millions of new jobs are among the many silver, if not indeed gold-plated linings on the cloud of climate change," said Achim Steiner, United Nations (U.N.) Under-Secretary General and executive director of the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP).

"New research reveals that these jobs are not for just the middle classes -- the so-called 'green collar' jobs -- but also for workers in construction, sustainable forestry and agriculture to engineering and transportation," he said.

"Talk of environmental sustainability and climate change often emphasizes the costs, but downplays the significant employment opportunities from the transition to a global economy that is not only resource efficient and without the huge emissions of greenhouse gases, but one that also restores environmental and social values," Steiner continued.

Steiner was referring to the preliminary draft report, "Green Jobs: Can the Transition to Environmental Sustainability Spur New Kinds and Higher Levels of Employment?," that was commissioned by UNEP, in partnership with the International Labour Organisation (ILO) and the International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC). The final report will be released early next year, but some of the research covered includes:

  • In the United States alone, the environmental industry in 2005 generated more than 5.3 million jobs -- 10 times the number in the US pharmaceutical industry.
  • The renewable energy programs in Germany and Spain are merely 10 years old but have already created several hundred thousand jobs.
  • The Indian city of Delhi is introducing new eco-friendly compressed natural gas buses that will create an additional 18,000 new jobs.
  • The ethanol program in Brazil has created half a million jobs and its bio-diesel program is specifically designed to benefit hundreds of thousands of mostly poor farmers.
  • By the year 2020, Germany will have more jobs in the field of environmental technologies than in its entire automotive industry.
  • In Europe, a 20 percent increase in energy efficiency would create about a million jobs. The same applies in emerging and developing countries.
  • In solar heating, China is the global leader. With combined sales revenues of about $2.5 billion in 2005, more than 1,000 Chinese manufacturers employed more than 150,000 people. Future estimates of installed capacity mean employment could grow substantially in this area.

Commenting further on the report, Steiner said: "The transition is being spurred on by the existing Kyoto climate agreement with its carbon trading and clean development mechanisms and the anticipation of further, deeper and more decisive emissions reductions post-2012. Another factor is the shifting relationship between environmental advocates, organized labour and heads of industry from one of suspicion that environmental regulation was bad for business and bad for jobs, to one of cooperation based on mutual self-interest."

New industries to address climate change will be at the forefront of the "cleantech" sector. A new report by UNEP's Sustainable Energy Finance Initiative ( estimates that investment in renewable energy has now reached $100 billion and represents 18 per cent of new investments in the power sector.

A recent report by the U.S. economist Roger Bezdek concluded that with the right government signals and investments in research and development, renewable energy and energy efficiency industries could create 40 million jobs across the United States alone by 2030.

"Added together, we are clearly on the edge of something quite exciting and transformational," Steiner said, emphasizing that the "right government signals" are needed to accelerate this push across the globe, starting with the negotiations in Bali.


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