Jobs and society  |  Publications  |  01.06.2012

Working towards sustainable development: how a green economy can create 60 million jobs

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 this new report led by the Green Jobs Initiative and the International Institute for Labour Studies of ILO.  

The current development model is unsustainable, not only environmentally, but also from economic, employment and social perspectives, argues this report. Estimates based on the ILO Global Economic Linkages (GEL) model suggest that in a business-as-usual scenario, productivity levels in 2030 would be 2.4 per cent lower than today and 7.2 per cent lower by 2050. If the business-as-usual scenario continues to dominate, wasteful production and consumption patterns along with continued soil degradation, deforestation, overfishing and climate change will result in increasing water shortages and escalating prices for food, energy and other commodities. This will exacerbate problems such as poverty and inequality as well as malnutrition and food insecurity.

Instead, a transformation to a greener economy and more sustainable enterprises has already created tens of millions of green jobs. For example, this report highlights that employment in environmental goods and services sectors in the United States in 2010 was 3.1 million (2.4 percent) and growing. Similar levels and dynamics are seen in other countries, such as in Brazil, where 2.9 million green jobs (6.6 per cent of formal employment) were recorded in 2010 in sectors aimed at reducing environmental harms. Germany's building renovation programme has already mobilised €100 billion in investments, yielding around 300,000 direct jobs per year. Actual and potential job growth is particularly strong in the renewable energy, energy efficiency and ecosystem services sectors.

An important finding from the modelling undertaken for this report is that outcomes for employment and incomes are largely determined by the policy instruments used and the institutions which implement them. Outcomes are also country specific, pointing to the need for more country-level assessment. Especially net gains in employment are likely to be highest in emerging and developing countries, according to this report. These countries indeed have the opportunity to leapfrog in a number of areas, notably as regards the use of technology, thus avoiding the costs associated with replacing obsolete legacy infrastructure and related employment substitution.

According to this report, key measures should include:

  • the introduction of environmental tax reform, in particular an eco-tax, that shifts the burden to resource use and pollution and away from labour;
  • encouraging investment in a greener economy by putting in place sufficient market signals;
  • providing targeted support to enterprises, notable SMEs;
  • putting in place social and labour market policies, which are essential for sustainable development with social inclusion;
  • placing emphasis on skills and education policies to facilitate job transition and improve employability;
  • ensuring equitable outcomes for women and men;
  • leveraging social protection for sustainable development;
  • placing social dialogue at the centre of policy making to improve coherence and to ensure a successful shift to a new development model.

This report is the result of the collaborative efforts of the Green Jobs Initiative (which includes UNEP, ILO, IOE and ITUC) and the International Institute for Labour Studies of ILO.

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