Policymakers around the world increasingly recognize that adopting sound environmental policies can promote, not hinder, economic growth and job creation. In September, after United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon urged representatives from more than 150 countries to act quickly on climate change, Juan Somavia, the head of the Geneva-based International Labour Organization (ILO), outlined his organization's plan for a new "Green Jobs Initiative." Somavia observed in his remarks that "Investments in energy efficiency, clean energy technology, and in renewable energy have enormous potential to create productive and decent work."
The ILO Green Jobs Initiative is based on two fundamental premises: one, that workers and employers must change the way they use and conserve natural resources and seek to create new patterns of production, consumption, and employment; and two, that there is significant opportunity to create viable new jobs through policies designed to reduce emissions. The ILO asserts that creating green jobs must be a key objective of efforts to address climate change. The organization plans to work with its constituents to document best practices and to promote better understanding of the links between environmental policies, good jobs, and economic growth, building on the experiences of both industrialized and developing countries.
In the United States, for example, there is strong evidence that investments in energy efficiency can boost the economy and create new, permanent jobs. At a recent Senate hearing on "Green Jobs Created by Global Warming Initiatives," Donald Gilligan, president of the National Association of Energy Service Companies (NAESCO), cited estimates that improvements in energy efficiency alone have met over 50 percent of the increase in U.S. energy demand since 1980. Much of this improvement has resulted from mandates and guidance provided by Congress and by state and federal agencies, including funding for technological innovation programs and the adoption of new rules promoting performance-based energy service contracting, appliance and equipment standards, and revised building codes.
These government directives, together with direct investments by private-sector energy providers, have supported the growth in both energy-efficiency resources and green jobs in the United States. In a recent survey, the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory estimated that energy service companies provide about $4 billion in annual energy-efficiency investment nationwide, 25 to 30 percent of which is spent on labor to design, install, operate, and maintain comprehensive energy-efficiency projects in a wide range of building sectors.
At the Senate hearing, Gilligan also cited the U.S. National Action Plan for Energy Efficiency (NAPEE), a national commitment to energy efficiency by more than 50 leading U.S. gas and electric utilities, utility regulators, and partner organizations. NAPEE estimates that if utilities were to invest roughly $7 billion a year in energy efficiency, this would leverage another $20-30 million in non-utility investment, yielding annual savings to consumers of some $22 billion by 2017. These investment levels would result in the creation of about 298,000 jobs annually, according to a mid-point estimate. Meanwhile, a 2006 analysis from the University of Tennessee calculates that energy efficiency and renewable energy technologies could create up to 5 million new jobs by 2025, while also making a significant contribution to curbing greenhouse gas emissions and enhancing U.S. energy security.
To realize this level of employment, workers would need to be trained to design, manufacture, install, operate, and maintain a host of innovative renewable energy and energy efficiency technologies. This past summer, the U.S. House of Representatives passed an energy bill that included the so-called "Green Jobs Act of 2007." If enacted, the bill would award grants for national- and state-administered worker-training programs in energy efficiency and renewable energy. It also calls for the establishment of research programs to collect and analyze data to determine workforce trends resulting from energy-related initiatives.
At the September UN meeting on climate change in September, Secretary-General Ban observed that, "by being creative, we can reduce emissions while promoting economic growth." Green jobs would be key to this effort, he suggested, noting that, "This is our opportunity to advance sustainable development; encourage new kinds of cleaner technologies, industries and jobs; and integrate climate change risks into national policies and practices."
This story was written for Eye on Earth (e2), a service of World Watch Magazine in partnership with the blue moon fund. e2 provides a unique perspective on current events, newly released studies, and important global trends.
Image: "Uni-solar PV roofing system at the BigHorn Home Improvement Center - retail complex in Silverthorne, Colorado." Credit: US National Renewable Energy Laboratory.