By Marlene Cimons
This month, when diplomats met in Poland to negotiate the implementation of the Paris Agreement, the United States took on the role of the villain. The United States — which plans to formally withdraw from the pact — rejected a landmark scientific report and touted the need for fossil fuels. Why? In justifying his opposition to the Paris Agreement, Trump has repeatedly said that it will eliminate millions of U.S. jobs.
According to new research, however, his position is unfounded, especially over the long term. By working to achieve the stated goal of the Paris Agreement, to limit warming to 2°C, most countries will see a net gain in employment.
“Our findings show that if we take action to limit climate change, we will have more jobs by 2030 than by not doing anything,” said Guillermo Montt, author of the study and a senior economist in the research department of the International Labor Office, a special UN agency that focuses on labor issues. “More jobs will be created than those that are lost, so the economy and countries as a whole stand to gain.”
The study, which was published in December in the journal International Labour Review, found that accelerating the transition to clean energy could add 24 million jobs globally by 2030. In reaching their conclusions, Montt and his colleagues developed a model of the world economy to reflect how it would look with widespread adoption of renewables and enhanced energy efficiency. They found the impact in the renewables sector will ripple across other industries, such as construction and manufacturing.
“Energy is related to many other sectors in the economy. Changes in energy affect the rest of the economy as well, affecting jobs all over,” Montt said. “Also, there are more jobs in a world with renewables and energy efficiency because we need more workers to produce one gigawatt-hour of electricity from renewables than from fossil fuels.”
This latest study accords with the rapid job growth in the renewable energy field, including in the United States, despite efforts by the Trump administration to derail it. The administration has tried to encourage the growth of fossil fuels and discourage the growth of clean energy through slashing environmental protections, implementing tariffs on solar cells, and opening public lands to gas and oil exploration.
Despite this, the United States employs more than four million workers in clean power, clean transport and energy efficiency, according to a report issued earlier this year by the Environmental Defense Fund. In the rural Midwest, clean energy jobs already outnumber those in the fossil fuel industry, according to a report recently released by the Natural Resources Defense Council.
Nevertheless, fossil fuel workers’ fears about their future are real and should not be dismissed, Montt said. “Jobs are very important, and the fear of losing a job is a legitimate concern for workers, families and communities,” he said. “This is why any plan to advance climate needs to consider the impact on workers who lose out. Jobs will be lost, and those workers, their families and communities need to be supported with appropriate policies for them to be willing to change their lives and careers for this.”
Montt said governments will need to provide protections for workers in the fossil fuel industry and training to help them find jobs in other fields. “The transition must happen for the sake of our planet and our children,” he said. “But it will not happen by itself. We need to make sure that those who lose out are protected, heard and considered so that the transition is just. The only way a transition will happen is if it is just.”
Because policymakers already know which sectors will be affected, and the types of workers who could suffer — coal mining and oil drilling, for example — they should advance policies to safeguard the livelihood of workers in those industries by helping them prepare for jobs in a clean energy. In coal country, many workers are already exploring jobs in other fields.
“One way to make it happen is to develop a plan with the workers themselves,” he said. “They know what their skills are and where they can be put to use. The coal mining sector has been on a decline in many countries not because of the adoption of renewables, but because of the growth in electricity generated from natural gas, which is cheaper and more efficient than electricity generated by coal. This change has affected the sector without paying attention to the miners or other related workers. Now that we know that a change is coming we can develop plans to make it work for everyone before it is too late.”
Furthermore, governments have a responsibility to ensure an easy transition for displaced workers while continuing their efforts to aggressively battle climate change, he said. “In this context, job losses should not be an excuse to slow down urgent climate action,” he said, noting that rising temperatures are a bigger threat to job growth than clean energy, as heat, drought, floods and severe weather hamper economic activity. “If we do nothing, by 2050 to 2100, we will really start feeling the effects of climate change, which will destroy jobs.”
“Taking action to limit climate change creates jobs now and protects jobs in the future by limiting climate change,” he added. “In other words, the jobs effect of taking climate action now is even more beneficial when we consider the long term negative effects climate change will bring to the world of work. A world with climate change is a world that will be much more difficult to work in.”
Marlene Cimons writes for Nexus Media, a syndicated newswire covering climate, energy, policy, art and culture.