Environmental Sustainability Is Not a Job Killer

KUALA CENAKU, RIAU PROVINCE, INDONESIA - NOVEMBER 21: Newly-planted palm oil trees are seen growing on the site of destroyed
KUALA CENAKU, RIAU PROVINCE, INDONESIA - NOVEMBER 21: Newly-planted palm oil trees are seen growing on the site of destroyed tropical rainforest in Kuala Cenaku, Riau Province November 21, 2007 in Sumatra Island, Indonesia. For many years Indonesia has feed the world's appetite for wood, pulp and palm oil by chopping down its tropical forest. Over the past 25 years the Riau Province has lost more than 60 percent of its forest. Indonesia, which has 10 percent of the world's tropical rainforests, has become the third largest emitter of carbon in the world due to its massive deforestation. Later this year Indonesia will host the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change where it hopes to ratify a new scheme which would see emission cuts from keeping forests intact eligible for carbon trading. (Photo by Dimas Ardian/Getty Images)

As the impact of climate change increases, so does the awareness that we need to transform the global economy to make it greener and more sustainable.

But what will it cost? Is it something developing countries, the worst hit by climate change, can afford?

The answer is yes, if we do it right.

With the right policies and proper implementation, the shift to a greener economy could produce a double dividend -- environmental and social. It has the potential to create a net increase of between 15 million to 60 million additional new jobs over the next two decades, compared to what business as usual would give us. And it could lift tens of millions of workers out of poverty.

But it won't be easy.

Some jobs and enterprises will be lost, particularly in very carbon-intensive sectors which account for 10- 20 per cent of jobs in most countries.

But new jobs and businesses will emerge as the move to a more environmentally-sustainable economy opens new markets, stimulates eco-innovation and attracts investment.

Most scenarios suggest the net outcome on the labor market will be positive, if the right policies are adopted to drive the transition.

Tens of millions of jobs have already been created by this transformation. Countries as diverse as Germany, Kenya and the Republic of Korea, for example, are investing in harnessing the power of resource and energy efficiency and of renewable energy.

In the European Union alone, there are about 15 million jobs directly or indirectly linked to the protection of biodiversity and rehabilitation of natural resources. In Germany, a building renovation program for energy efficiency creates about 300,000 direct jobs a year.

Brazil has almost three million jobs -- close to 7 percent of formal employment -- in sectors and occupations which lower environmental impacts.

In the United States, about three million people are employed in environmental goods and services sectors.

The impetus is clearly there, but there is a need to step up efforts to build national strategies that will simultaneously introduce clean technologies and green jobs.

How long and how painful the transition will be will depend largely on prior planning.

Developing skills is one of the keys to unlocking the jobs potential of a low-carbon economy. That involves equipping young people today with skills that will be needed tomorrow, and focussing on all education levels, starting with the teaching of environmental awareness to young children.

Skills' shortages are already holding back the transition in most countries and sectors. In many cases, demand has been underestimated and skills' training has failed to respond to the needs of green sectors and of occupations which help to green enterprises across the economy.

Government and training providers need to work in close collaboration with industry to ensure curricula keep track of new technologies and occupations -- such as eco designers or carbon consultants as well as in occupations whose job profiles are changing significantly, from building workers to logistics' managers.

The global youth jobs crisis makes the issue all the more pressing. Young people who acquire skills for the green economy hold a strong competitive edge on a tight labour market.

In developing countries, investments in green sectors can breed green start-up enterprises, providing a badly-needed opportunity to create jobs. Entrepreneurship or business training can be a great help in achieving this.

In Kenya, for example, 6,000 young men and women have been reached by a program that helps develop green entrepreneurship among young people. In Zambia, new jobs and businesses in sustainable building construction are being created to alleviate the housing shortage.

The challenges of moving away from a high-carbon economy are daunting. But it's an investment we can't afford not to make.

This post is part of a series produced by The Huffington Post and The International Labour Organization in recognition of the latter's Green Jobs programme. The ILO's Green Jobs Programme provides analysis and policy guidance to help promote a fair globalization and the development of sustainable enterprises and economies, which are efficient, socially just, and environmentally sound.