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Green Jobs Plans Could Solve 'Twin Crises'

Haider Rizvi

Green jobs at the crossroads. Worldwide efforts to overcome the current economic crisis will require more spending on green industry, which will also help slow and possibly reverse the impending climate crisis, say two new studies released this week. (Image:

- Worldwide efforts to overcome the current economic crisis will
require more spending on green industry, which will also help slow and
possibly reverse the impending climate crisis, say two new studies released this week.

"It's time for a bailout for the environment: one that creates jobs, is
global in scope, and can help rebuild communities amidst the ashes of
the current economic crisis," said Michael Renner, co-author of the
latest report, entitled "Green Jobs: Working for People and the Environment."

Statistical analysis in the report released Wednesday shows that
currently nearly 200 million people in the world have no work to make
their ends meet. These numbers are likely to increase further if
governments fail to adopt innovative ways to tackle the current
economic crisis.

"Green jobs are not only about
renewable energy," said Sean Sweeney and Jill Kubit of Cornell
University's Global Labor Institute, who co-authored the study
commissioned by the nonprofit Worldwatch Institute, an environmental think tank.

The report's authors say that, in China alone, renewable energy technologies
employ no less than 1 million people in the wind, solar, and biomass
industries. But several other economic sectors, such as construction
businesses, transportation systems, agriculture, and basic industry
also have the potential to create many jobs that would help reduce carbon emissions to protect the environment.

Retrofitting Europe's residential buildings in order to cut carbon
emissions by 75 percent, for example, could lead to more than 2 million
new jobs in the next two decades, according to the report, which notes
that the construction sector currently employs about 111 million people

The report's authors also see "huge
potential" for green jobs in efforts to grow public transportation
systems. The report's findings show that in the United States and
Europe, there are already about 1.2 million people employed in this

According to the report, worldwide,
more than 40 percent of steel output and one-quarter of aluminum
production is based on recycled scrap, rendering the estimated quarter
million jobs in these two sectors at least "a shade of green."

The researchers also note that
recycling programs create as many as 15 million jobs worldwide, but
they often entail "dirty, undesirable, poorly paid, and even dangerous
work, particularly in developing countries." In Brazil, however, over 90 percent of recyclable material
is collected by scrap collectors who have organized themselves into a
national movement with 500 cooperatives and 60,000 collectors, the
researchers said.

Researchers cite a study on more than 1,000 organic farms in Britain and Ireland showing that organic farms employed on average one-third more employees per farm than conventional counterparts.

The authors note that over 1 billion
people depend on agro-forestry for subsistence and income, particularly
in Africa, Asia, and Latin America. They hold that planting trees on agricultural land provides multiple environmental benefits and can raise farm incomes.

A study released by the environmental group Greenpeace International and the European Renewable Energy Council (EREC) early this week offered similar conclusions.

The report, entitled, "Energy [R]evolution: A Sustainable World Energy Outlook,"
shows that aggressive investment in renewable power and energy
efficiency can create a $360-billion-a-year industry, provide half of
the world's electricity, and slash $18 trillion in future fuel
expenditures -- while protecting the climate.

"Unlike other energy scenarios that
promote energy futures at the cost of the climate, our energy
revolution scenario shows how to save money and maintain global economic development without fuelling catastrophic climate change," said Sven Teske, co-author of the report. "All we need to kick start this plan is bold energy policy from world leaders."

Energy efficiency will have to be a major component of those policies, he said, if carbon emissions are to decrease while global energy use inevitably increases. In Teske's view, strict energy efficiency standards make "sound economic sense" because they can help slow down rising global energy demand.

"The energy saved in industrialized countries will make space for increased energy use in developing economies,"
he said. "With renewable energy growing four-fold not only in the
electricity sector, but also in the heating and transport sectors, we
can still cut the average carbon emissions per person from today's four
tons to around one ton by 2050."

The Greenpeace report suggests that
the cost of continued reliance on coal will remain as high as $15.9
trillion until 2030, which is more than what would be required to pay
for the renewable solutions proposed in the plan. The authors conclude
that these clean energy sources
will produce electricity without any additional fuel costs after 2030,
while creating millions of jobs and stimulating the global economy.

"The global market for renewable energy can grow at double-digit rates until 2050, and overtake the size of today's fossil fuel industry. Currently, the renewable energy market
is worth $70 billion and doubling in size every three years," said
Oliver Schafer, EREC policy director. "Because of economies of scale, renewable energies, such as wind power at good sites, are already competitive with conventional power."

Schafer thinks that after 2015, renewable sources
across all sectors will be the most cost effective. "The renewable
industry is ready and able to deliver the needed capacity to make the
energy revolution a reality," he added in a statement. "There is no
technical impediment, but a political barrier to rebuild the global
energy sector."

John Passacantando, executive director of the Greenpeace chapter in the United States, agrees.

"Countries like China and India
are well placed to take the enormous investment opportunity presented
by the energy revolution," he said. "It would be short-sighted for them
to focus on fossil fuels to power their rapid economic growth. The energy revolution is key to them climate proofing their development."

While there is significant untapped economic potential in the green jobs sector, not all news is good.

According to the Worldwatch report, green jobs are "still an exception"
in most developing countries, which account for some 80 percent of the
world's workforce, and where nearly 500 million people still earn no
more than $1 a day.

Other issues that concerned researchers include the rising level of
informality in the global economy, a lack of rules and standards to
help ensure decent jobs, and the fact that environmental costs are too
often externalized, making it harder for green enterprises to compete.

"Given all of the uncertainties in today's world, it's time for a
bold commitment and international cooperation to promote green
economies that support conservation, low carbon technologies,
recycling, and local communities," said Renner. "I can't see how we'll
escape our twin economic and environmental crises if we don't."

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