Job creation potential of nature-based solutions to climate change

U.K. think tank Green Alliance commissioned research to measure the economic impact of nature-based investments for a green recovery,  and released the results on May 4.  The full report, Green Renewal – The Economics of Enhancing the Natural Environment, was written by WPI Economics, and states:  “Looking at just three types of enhancement (woodland creation, peatland restoration and urban green infrastructure) we find that an expanded programme of nature restoration could create at least 16,050 jobs in the 20% of constituencies likely to face the most significant employment challenges. We present place-based analysis of the labour market and nature based solutions, which can also be found on an interactive webpage here.”  The report emphasizes that nature-based interventions can create jobs in areas that need them the most – stating that two thirds of the most suitable land for planting trees is in constituencies with worse than average labour market challenges.

Jobs for a Green Recovery is a summary report written by Green Alliance, based on the economic WPI report.  It emphasizes the impact of Covid on youth employment, stating that 63% of those newly unemployed in 2020-21 are under 25, argues that nature-based jobs are long-term, skilled and productive, and makes specific recommendations for the British government so that such jobs can become part of the U.K. green recovery. Green Alliance estimates that  investments in nature-related jobs have a high cost-benefit ratio, with £4.60 back for every £1 invested in peatland, £2.80 back in woodland, and £1.30 back for salt marsh creation.  

Jobs for a Green Recovery includes brief U.K. case studies.  An interesting a related Canadian example can be found in the new Seed the North initiative, described in The Tyee here . Seed the North is a small start-up company in Northern B.C., with big ambition to scale up. Currently, the project collects wild seed from Canadian trees, uses innovative technology to encase the seed in bio-char, and then uses drone technology to plant seeds in remote forest areas.  The result:  increased regeneration of disturbed land, restored soil health,  a statistically significant contribution to carbon sequestration, and economic benefits flowing through co-ownership to the local First Nations communities who participate.  

U.K. guide to pension fund divestment includes a role for unions

Divesting to protect our pensions and the planet:  An analysis of local government investments in coal, oil and gas was released in February by Platform, Friends of the Earth Scotland and Friends of the Earth England Wales and Northern Ireland.

The report details the extent of fossil fuel investment by local governments in the U.K., and their progress in divestment. However, of broader interest, it summarizes the financial status of the declining fossil fuel industry, explains the process which lead to stranded assets, and describes the financial dangers for all pension funds in quite understandable terms:  “pension funds exposed to the fossil fuel system in the coming decade will face a rollercoaster ride of disruption, write-downs, financial instability and share price deratings as markets adjust.”  In an explanation very relevant to Canadians, whose own Canadian Pension Plan Investment Board still clings to the “staying invested and ‘engaging’” approach –    the report uses the example of investing in Blockbuster videos vs. Netflix, to debunk the “engagement” approach: “The argument for ‘engagement’ tends to be one made by asset owners who employ investment managers who won’t or can’t accept that there is a technology-driven transition occurring. …. this approach of ‘we’ll decarbonise when markets decide to decarbonise’ is clearly not a risk management strategy. It is a ‘do nothing, and hope a few meetings will help’ strategy.”   

Divesting to protect our pensions and the planet offers practical steps for local councillors, community members, and labour unionists.  For unions, it points to the leadership of the Trades Union Congress (TUC), which passed a climate action motion in 2017 which included support for divestment, based on a motion by their constituent unions representing food workers, communication workers, fire brigades, train drivers, and other transport workers.  Unison, the primary union representing U.K.  government workers, also passed a strong divestment motion in 2017 – meaningful because in the U.K., union members in government workplaces are usually entitled to some form of representation on their pension fund committee and board. The report urges union members to become knowledgeable about financial issues and to speak up in committee meetings – advocating for divestment and re-investment in lower-carbon, socially just funds which benefit their local communities and economies, especially after Covid.  The report cites inspiring examples, such as investment in wind farms by Manchester and London Councils, the U.K.’s first community-owned solar power cooperative by Lancashire County Council, and social housing in the Forth Valley and in London Councils.

An earlier guide for unions was Our Pensions, Our Communities, Our Planet: How to reinvest our pensions for our good? published by the Trade Union Group within Campaign against Climate Change.  The 6-page, action-oriented fact sheet lacks all the up-to-date statistical detail in Divesting to protect our pensions and the planet but makes many of the same arguments for divestment, and includes links to U.K. resources, as well as a model motion for local unions.

Green Recovery includes proposals for Green Apprenticeships, Opportunity Guarantees for youth

In the midst of rampant youth unemployment in the U.K., An Emergency Plan on Green Jobs for Young People was released on March 1, commissioned by Friends of the Earth U.K. and prepared by Transition Economics consultants. The report puts flesh on the bones of a youth jobs guarantee – discussing the many issues, identifying green jobs and skills related to infrastructure, and estimating the level of funding required. That level of funding is compared to the cost of youth unemployment – the “wage scarring”.  Individual scarring is estimated at a loss of £42,000 – £133,000 in future wages over the next 20 years for an 18-20 year old who experiences one year of unemployment. The economic loss to the U.K. as a whole, if all currently unemployed youth stayed unemployed for 1 year, is estimated at £32 – £39 billion.

The solution proposed in the  Emergency Plan is the creation of 250,000 green apprenticeships in infrastructure-related jobs, rapidly rolled-out in England and Wales at an estimated cost of £6.2 – £10.6 billion over 5 years – a “tiny” cost compared to the burden of wage scarring. The report calls for “a green opportunity guarantee” that commits to ensure that all young people are offered a job, an apprenticeship, or training, and estimates that  “A government funded £40 billion-a-year green infrastructure programme would create over 1 million jobs, and deliver significant co-benefits.”   The report further calls for apprentice pay rates above the minimum wage, negotiated nationally with U.K. trade unions.

The idea of a green opportunity guarantee has also been advanced in Canada – notably in July 2020 by the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives in its  Alternative Federal Budget Green Recovery Plan . The CCPA proposed a  National Decarbonization Strategy with public investments in electricity generation, public transit, forestry and building and home retrofitting; part of the Strategy included “a Green Jobs Corps at a cost of $10 billion per year to create good green jobs that advance Canada’s decarbonization agenda. Among the corps’ priorities will be climate adaptation and environmental reclamation projects identified under the National Decarbonization Strategy. All youth under the age of 25 in Canada will be guaranteed either a job in the corps or access to subsidized training through the Strategic Training Fund.”

Similarly, a Submission by the Canadian Labour Congress in August stated:  “Following the experience of the European Union, the federal, provincial and territorial governments should establish a guarantee that all young people under the age of 25 will receive a good-quality offer of employment, continued education, an apprenticeship or a traineeship within a period of four months of becoming unemployed or leaving formal education. This could include a focus on providing decent jobs in land remediation and restoration, climate adaptation, and energy efficiency. It should also include green skills training and learning opportunities through partnerships with public education and training providers, with an emphasis on women, marginalized, low-income and at-risk youth.”  A similar proposal was made by the Smart Prosperity Institute, calling for the creation of  a Conservation and Adaptation corps as part of its Green Recovery proposals.  Smart Prosperity stated that the federal government funded 900 green internships in 2020 through the Science Horizons Youth Internship Program for STEM students, and calls on the government to go further with a youth  Conservation and Adaptation corps which “would offer the workforce needed to meet a number of environmental targets, including planting 2 billion trees, and could build the infrastructure needed to improve community resilience to climate impacts from flooding, fires and sea level rise.”

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.”

Green bargaining in Europe: theory, legal structures, and case studies of 6 countries

Agreenment – A Green Mentality for Collective Bargaining is a European project to investigate the role of social dialogue and collective bargaining in promoting sustainable development and the transition to a low-carbon economy.  Labour and Environmental Sustainability : Comparative Report is their newly published overview, which is accompanied by separate, detailed reports for each of the six countries studied: France, Hungary, Italy, the Netherlands, Spain and the UK..  The Agreenment website has further resources and bibliographies.

Written mostly by lawyers, the Comparative Report reviews the theoretical concepts influencing labour unions’ positions on environmental issues – with a key section titled “Treadmill of Production and Just Transition: Two Contrasting Patterns?”.  The Comparative Report also reviews the legal structure of collective bargaining and the forms of social dialogue in each country, and for each country, discusses topics which might be included in collective bargaining – for example, linking pay to environmental performance; health and safety considerations; inclusion of environmental issues within labour-management bodies.  The conclusion:

“It is up to the social partners to promote environmental sustainability as a goal for
collective bargaining or to continue with the traditional inertia that divides labour
and environmental regulation……. Collective agreements could take a leading role in driving the just transition towards a low-carbon economy, but in practice they do not regard this mission as a priority. Environmental clauses in collective agreements are still exceptional and lack momentum.”

The U.K. Study  states:  

 “Based on extensive review of policy documents and qualitative interviews with key informants, our research confirms that UK unions have attempted to seize upon the possibilities inherent in a voluntarist system of industrial relations, in so far as broadening the scope of what are deemed to be union issues or issues that could be negotiated or bargained with management. …. However, despite the fact that many workplace initiatives have been reported throughout the UK, relatively few comprehensive agreements on environmental sustainability have been concluded… .  The authors call for  “…. (1) the statutory recognition of environmental union representatives together with rights to facility time and pay (rights that unions have advocated for a long time), as well as (2) expansion of the statutory scope of bargaining to include issues of environmental nature. Finally, for Just Transition processes to be operationalized in practice, UK unions should have more input in policy development. For this to be possible, (3) social dialogue must be institutionalized in a more meaningful way at the regional and national level.”