Green and greenable jobs in the global energy sector – trends and recommendations

Employment in the Energy Sector: Status Report 2020  is a Science for Policy report released by the Joint Research Centre of the European Commission in late 2020. It compiles statistics regarding global employment trends related to the greening and decarbonisation of the economy, with a focus on the energy sector, both from a supply side ( including fossil fuels, nuclear, solar, wind, biofuels, geothermal, and tidal) and a demand side (construction, energy efficiency, energy storage). The report provides a compilation of the best available statistics from established sources (e.g. IRENA, ILO, Eurostat and academic studies) – though the authors warn that data are not necessarily comparable.  Nevertheless, this report offers a wide-ranging review and discussion of the labour market  aspects of a greening economy,  including a discussion of occupational characteristics based on a  framework for “greenable jobs”. It discusses education, skills requirements and skills gaps, gender and generational aspects of new economy jobs, and concludes with policy recommendations.

Some highlights:

According to an IRENA report in 2020, Global employment in the energy sector reached nearly 58 million in 2017; about half of these jobs were in the fossil fuel industries.

Also based on IRENA data, global renewable energy employment has been increasing continuously since 2012, reaching 11 million jobs in 2018.  If ambitious policies are implemented, IRENA forecasts global renewable energy jobs to reach 42 million by 2050.

Based on the task content of occupations, 87.6 million jobs were green(able) in the EU-28 by 2016, amounting to 40 % of employment that year, according to the 2019 annual edition of Employment and Social Developments in Europe .

U.K. launches Green Jobs Taskforce aiming for 2 million green jobs by 2030

The Climate Ambition Summit on December 12  marks the fifth anniversary of the Paris Agreement, to be co-hosted by the U.N. and the United Kingdom and France. In advance of the Summit, the U.K. has made high-profile announcements, including A Ten Point Plan for a Green Industrial Revolution (Nov. 18),which aims for  the creation of 250,000 green jobs, and on December 3, an announcement that it will  reduce greenhouse gas emissions “by the fastest rate of any major economy” – with an ambitious new target of at least 68% reduction compared to 1990 emissions levels, by 2030.

Green Jobs Taskforce

Receiving less attention was another announcement on November 12: the launch of a Green Jobs Taskforce. The press release  announces that the Taskforce sets “ a clear ambition to support 2 million green jobs by 2030 ….. to set the direction for the job market as we transition to a high-skill, low carbon economy.” The Green Jobs Taskforce met for the first time on November 12 under the leadership of the Minister of Business, Clean Energy and Growth, and the Minister of Skills; it includes representation from workers ( the TUC Deputy General Secretary), as well as representatives from business and the skills sector. Specifically, the Taskforce is meant to “focus on the immediate and longer-term challenges of delivering skilled workers for the UK’s transition to net zero”:

  1. Ensuring we have the immediate skills needed for building back greener, such as in offshore wind and home retrofitting.
  2. Developing a long-term plan that charts out the skills needed to help deliver a net zero economy.
  3. Ensuring good quality green jobs and a diverse workforce.
  4. Supporting workers in high carbon transitioning sectors, like oil and gas, to retrain in new green technologies.”

Reaction from the Greener Jobs Alliance (GJA) points out the discrepancy between the 250,000 jobs target in the Ten Point Plan and the 2 million jobs discussed in the Taskforce announcement.  GJA also calls for:

  • “a skills policy that is properly funded and built on a long-term strategy of quality apprenticeships and upskilling of the current and future workforce
  •  co-ordinated local, regional, national and sector frameworks in the development of jobs for the future
  • full union engagement in policy development and delivery to ensure a just transition at different levels and sectors of the economy
  • introduction of a legal right to appoint trade union green reps in the workplace.
  • restoration of support for the Unionlearn fund
  • comprehensive changes to procurement and supply chain policies to ensure the potential for local employment growth is maximised, and that is based on union recognition and decent terms and conditions of employment
  • a Green New Deal which supports local recovery models as part of an industrial strategy that is clearly aligned with the Paris Agreement and the Sustainable Development Goals.”

Ørsted and U.S. Building Trades reach a national agreement for workforce planning in Offshore Wind

A November 18  press release from the North America Building Trades Unions (NABTU) and Ørsted Offshore North America  announces a “Landmark MOU for U.S. Offshore Wind Workforce Transition” , which “represents a transformative moment for organized labor and the clean energy industry. This framework sets a model for labor-management cooperation and workforce development in the budding offshore wind industry.”

According to the NABTU  press release, “The partnership will create a national agreement designed to transition U.S. union construction workers into the offshore wind industry in collaboration with the leadership of the 14 U.S. NABTU affiliates and the AFL-CIO.”    The newly-announced MOU is based on the model of an agreement developed by the Rhode Island Building Trades for the Block Island Wind Farm project – the first offshore wind installation in the U.S. which came online in December 2016, and is now operated by Ørsted .

No text of the new agreement is available yet, but the press release specifies:

“As part of this national framework, Ørsted, along with their partners, will work together with the building trades’ unions to identify the skills necessary to accelerate an offshore wind construction workforce. The groups will match those needs against the available workforce, timelines, scopes of work, and certification requirements to fulfill Ørsted’s pipeline of projects down the East Coast, creating expansive job opportunities in a brand-new American industry for years to come and raising economics for a just transition in the renewable sector…..Ørsted and NABTU, along with their affiliates and state and local councils, have agreed to work together on long-term strategic plans for the balanced and sustainable development of Ørsted’s offshore wind projects.”

North America’s Building Trades Unions is an alliance of 14 national and international unions in the building and construction industry that collectively represent over 3 million skilled craft professionals in the United States and Canada.  Previous NABTU model national agreements are available here .  Labour-affiliated BlueGreen Alliance issued a press release immediately, “lauding” the agreement between NABTU and Ørsted .  BlueGreen is also a partner in  New England for Offshore Wind , a civil society coalition which advocates for regional collaboration in New England, and urges state Governors to make commitments to power one-third of New England with offshore wind by 2022.

The Block Island Wind Farm has been described as “a case study in high-quality job creation” by the Center for American Progress in Offshore Wind Means Blue-Collar Jobs for Coastal States  (April 2018). Massachusetts Offshore Wind Workforce Assessment,(2018) is a detailed  study by the Massachusetts Clean Energy Centre, focusing on job-related issues, and highlighting the experience of Block Island.

New report offers sector-based strategies for greening California with high road jobs

The Center for Labor Research at the University of California, Berkeley, was commissioned by the California Workforce Development Board under legislated mandate to provide strategies “to help industry, workers, and communities transition to economic and labor-market changes related to statewide greenhouse gas emissions reduction goals.” The demand-side practices of community benefits agreements and project labour agreements were singled out for special attention.  The resulting 636-page report, Putting California on the High Road: A Jobs and Climate Action Plan for 2030 , was presented to the Legislature on September 3.  The official summary is here ; coverage in the Los Angeles Times is here.

The  High Road report is built on the framework of California’s 2017 Climate Change Scoping Plan, which has target of  a 40 percent reduction in greenhouse gas emissions by 2030 from 1990 levels. It incorporates existing academic research, economic models, and industry studies to present information about current labor conditions and the impact on jobs of California’s major climate measures. Most importantly, it provides strategic guidance and best practice examples for policymakers, agencies and institutions with a goal to “generate family-supporting jobs, broaden career opportunities for disadvantaged workers, deliver the skilled workforce that employers need to achieve California’s climate targets, and protect workers in declining industries.”  

Construction sector and blue-collar jobs are key

The Scoping Plan and the new report are organized into sectors based on the state’s major sources of greenhouse gas emissions: Transportation, Industry, Energy, Natural and Working Lands (including Agricultural Lands), Waste, and Water. The report notes the out-sized importance of the construction sector and of blue-collar work – defined as occupations in construction, production, transportation, maintenance, repair, and similar occupations, and specifically emphasizes that “blue collar” does not equate to “low skilled”. This has important policy implications, including the need for industry-based training, and emphasis on addressing job quality, because: “The quality of blue-collar jobs varies tremendously, even within the same industry, depending on the degree of subcontracting and outsourcing, ease of employment law enforcement, unionization rates, and other factors. These differences in job quality within industries and between high and low road employers are often difficult to discern from government data, which also is not able to capture wage theft and other employment violations. Examples are given of many sectors where greening of jobs may have resulted in lower emissions but not necessarily in job quality.

Recommendations

There are dozens of sector-specific recommendations, both demand-side and supply-side  including:

Expand the use of Community Workforce Agreements (CWAs) on climate investments involving large-scale construction projects;

Use inclusive procurement policies for public procurement of large capital equipment, contracts for public services, and in grant programs;

Include responsible employer standards in all climate incentive programs. Include skill standards to ensure safe and proper performance in programs receiving public or ratepayer funds; Incorporate wage and benefits standards and verification of compliance with all employment and labor law, including health and safety standards, into incentive program requirements.

Use metrics to measure the impact of climate policies on job growth, job quality, and job access.

Support existing apprenticeship programs and, where conditions are favorable, create new apprenticeship programs.

Support curriculum upgrades and teacher training for emerging technologies in occupations critical to the transition to a carbon-neutral economy.

Recommendations regarding Just Transition are: Short term: “Fully explore alternatives to plant closures when there are other strategies available that will achieve greenhouse gas emissions reductions and local pollution abatement. Longer term: Convene an interagency task force to develop concrete, specific plans for short-term and long-term transition.”

The full report is 636 pages long, with Lead Author Carol Zabin, Director of the Green Economy Program at the Labor Center, University of California Berkeley. Co-authors include J. Mijin Cha , author of Chapter 4 on Just Transition.  Much of the research was undertaken in 2018, relying on data from 2017, though the report is dated June 2020, and was only publicly released in September 2020.  Previous related reports from the Green Economy Program are listed here. Other relevant articles by J. Mijin Cha include “Environmental Justice, Just Transition, and a Low-Carbon Future for California” in Environmental Law Reporter 2020 and “A just transition for whom? Politics, contestation, and social identity in the disruption of coal in the Powder River Basin” in Energy Research & Social Science, Volume 69, 2020. Both academic articles have restricted access to the full text.

Over 60,000 Green jobs in Toronto in 2019

The City of Toronto Office of Economic Development and Culture recently released estimates showing that there were 60,700 jobs in Toronto’s Green sector in 2019, with 38% of those in Sustainable Transportation and 21% in Green Building. The other sectors included in the report of jobs and GDP: Bioeconomy, Clean Energy, and Resource Management. For the green sector as a whole, employment growth rate was 3.9%, compared to the city’s overall employment growth of 1.9%. The report also provides data on five-year average weekly wages (2015-2019), showing the highest wages earned were in the Clean Energy subsector, at C$1,384.  A summary appeared in the Toronto Green Industries Blog on June 23; the full economic results are available at the City of Toronto website, which also provides related reports on green industry in the city, including the 2019 report, Best Practices on Growing Green Clusters.