One Million Green Jobs by 2030 – Is that the best we can do?

GLOBE-Net, April 7. 2015 – Much press attention has been given to recent predictions that one million green jobs by 2030 could be created in China, the United States and the European Union by 2030 if these regions adhered to their current pledges to curb global warming.

Responsible for an estimated one half of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions, these three regions clearly wield the balance of power in terms of reaching a meaningful international accord to hold global warming below 2°C when nations gather in Paris later in the year.

But two questions emerge that require further clarification: What exactly constitutes a ‘green job,’ and why only one million jobs? Surely we could do better.

Both questions were tackled by The Climate Action Tracker (CAT), an independent scientific analysis produced by four research organizations that since 2009 have been measuring government climate action against the globally agreed aim of holding warming below 2?C of warming.

Are we doing enough?

In a report assessing the missed benefits of countries’ national contributions scientists from Climate Action Tracker four research organizations (Climate Analytics, Ecofys, NewClimate Institute, Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research) sought to determine whether the commitments made to date by various governments represent a ‘fair share’ of the commitment needed to achieve the 2°C goal.

The Climate Action Tracker (CAT) has developed the most comprehensive method yet of simultaneously assessing the “fairness” and “below 2°C compatibility” of government climate actions put forward for the Paris Agreement, and has examined what additional actions are warranted by these countries.

The assessments were based on the ‘Intended Nationally Determined Contributions (INDCs) each jurisdiction had submitted to date to the UNFCCC.

By March 31 2015 Six INDCs of CAT countries were received covering one third of global emissions in 2010. These include by order of submission:

  • Switzerland: Rated as “medium”. Switzerland put forward a target goal to reduce greenhouse gases emissions by 50% below 1990 by 2030. In addition, Switzerland communicated an emissions reduction target of 35% for 2025.
  • European Union: The EU was rated also as “medium”. The EU put forward a binding, economy-wide target goal to reduce greenhouse gases emissions by at least 40% domestic below 1990 by 2030.
  • Norway: Rated “medium”. Norway put forward a binding, economy-wide target goal to reduce greenhouse gases emissions by at least 40% below 1990 by 2030.
  • Mexico: Rated “medium”. Mexico put forward an unconditional target of 22% greenhouse gas reductions below baseline in 2030, starting to decrease emissions in 2026. Conditionally to support and certain elements included in a global agreement, Mexico offers to reduce up to 36% below baseline. Additionally, Mexico wants to reduce black carbon emissions.
  • USA: Rated “medium”. The USA put forward the unconditional target to reduce economy wide emissions by 26% to 28% below 2005 domestically.
  • Russian Federation: Rated “inadequate”. Russia put forward a target which we interpret as a reduction of only 6–11% below 1990 given its intention of “making maximum use of […] forests” and making this target conditional upon a legally binding commitment by all emitters.

Announcements assessed by the Climate Action Tracker

  • China: Rated “medium”. China announced to aim at peaking CO2 emissions in 2030 at the latest, and increase the share of non-fossil fuels to 20% of primary energy demand.

For jurisdictions rated “Medium” this means their INDC’s are not compatible with holding warming below 2°C, unless many others were to do more than their fair share.  If all countries were rated “medium,” the 2°C limit would likely be breached. The Climate Action Tracker does not itself assign emission reduction proposals of countries to a specific concept of “fairness”, but instead locates a country’s emission proposals within the full range of academic analyses of the issue.

The “sufficient” category means that if all governments adopted the same level of effort, warming would be held below 2°C with a likely probability.

Where a government is rated “medium”, its emission reduction proposals could be compatible with limiting warming below 2°C, but only if other countries compensated for that by reducing their emissions more than their medium category.

“Assessing the fairness of climate action is particularly important because of the number of higher pledges that are conditional on other governments making comparable efforts,” said Niklas Höhne, of NewClimate Institute.

“Everybody has a different way of deciding what is a “fair” effort on climate change,” he said.  “Some consider it fair that those who have made a bigger contribution to the problem, or have a higher capability to act, should do more. But even if that were agreed, how much more should they do?”

“While there has been some progress in what Governments are proposing for the post 2020 period, with several countries moving from “inadequate” to “medium”, proposals are still a long way from being 2°C compatible,” said Bill Hare of Climate Analytics.

“We hope our effort sharing assessment helps governments, the media and observers to interpret the offers made in the run-up to anticipated adoption of the Paris Agreement in December in terms of below 2°C compatibility and fairness,” he added.

Why only one million jobs?

For purposes of assessing the green jobs creation impact of declared country intentions the CAT used an employment factor approach to quantify direct job creation during two phases of a project life cycle: manufacturing, construction and installation (MCI) and operation and maintenance (O&M) .

Significantly the methodology was limited to employment impacts solely from wind, solar and hydro renewable electricity capacity. Jobs more broadly related to renewable energy through other phases of the cycle, including research, technological development, consultation, project development, and project evaluation, were not included in the scope of this study. Nor were jobs created through renewables export included.

The focus was only on the creation of ‘decent green jobs’ as defined by the International Labour Organization (ILO) as follows:

“Green jobs are decent jobs that contribute to preserving and restoring the environment, be they in traditional sectors such as manufacturing and construction, or in new, emerging green sectors such as renewable energy and energy efficiency. Green jobs reduce consumption of energy and raw materials; limit greenhouse gas emissions; minimize waste and pollution; protect and restore ecosystems; and enable enterprises and communities to adapt to climate change.”

On this basis alone the one million jobs estimate is a very conservative figure. But even greater estimates are possible.

Co-benefit employment impacts

The report argues that policies targeting climate change mitigation can positively or negatively influence other goals that are equally important to society, such as food security, human health, energy access, energy security and environmental services, each of which has a job creation dimension.

On this basis, even with the limitation of examining only three jurisdictions (China, the United States and the European Union), the report estimates that the potential co-benefits of strengthening INDCs to meet a 2°C compatible trajectory are many times higher than those already achieved. Table 2 from the report estimates this potential exceeds 2 million green jobs.

Table 2

The total potential co-benefits of the 2°C compatible trajectory using 100% renewable energy compared to current policies trajectories is even more impressive, coming in at over 3 million green jobs. (Table 3).


Summing up

The basis for the widely published estimate of one million green jobs by 2030 for these three jurisdictions is extremely conservative and many more jobs can and must be created to meet the 2°C compatible trajectory.

Recognizing both the achieved and potential co-benefits that are possible could move decision makers and influential stakeholders to embark on more ambitious climate change mitigation strategies.

As noted in the report, the benefits highlighted – national cost savings, health and job creation – are economy-wide issues that are of key relevance to the development objectives of all imaginable stakeholders.

The full Carbon Action Tracker report is available here.



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