UN Report — Switching to a Green Economy Might Mean Millions of Jobs

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United Nations

It is encouraging to learn about the push for green jobs. The United Nations is pushing to create green jobs around the world, even in the midst of continuing economic slumps, including in Europe and the United States.

In a recent Guardian story, the U.N. stated that tens of millions of new jobs can be created around the world in the next two decades – if green policies are put in place to switch the high-carbon economy to a low-carbon one.

According to a new report from the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), up to 60 million jobs are a likely outcome. “The shift to a greener economy is creating employment across a range of sectors. In fact, an increasing number of assessments are showing that net gains are possible.”

Such a switch to a green economy, if successful, could also help to lift millions of people out of poverty in a sustainable way, while providing benefits such as electricity and clean water that other parts of the world consider as a standard.



In the US, there are now about three million “green jobs,” in sectors such as wind power and energy efficiency, the study found. In the UK, the number is close to one million and has been one of the few areas of the economy that has been creating jobs. There are about 500,000 people working in green jobs in Spain. In the developing world, too, the number is growing rapidly – about 7% of people employed in Brazil, amounting to three million people, are now in the green economy.

However, according to the report, realizing the full potential of green jobs depends on countries taking action to develop the green economy and bringing in policies that foster investment.

Some of the sectors identified in the report as being most affected by the changes include: agriculture, forestry, fishing, energy, resource-intensive manufacturing, recycling, building, and transport.

Photo: Ashitakka

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Glenn Meyers

is a writer, producer, and director. Meyers was editor and site director of Green Building Elements, a contributing writer for CleanTechnica, and is founder of Green Streets MediaTrain, a communications connection and eLearning hub. As an independent producer, he's been involved in the development, production and distribution of television and distance learning programs for both the education industry and corporate sector. He also is an avid gardener and loves sustainable innovation.

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23 thoughts on “UN Report — Switching to a Green Economy Might Mean Millions of Jobs

  • Unfortunately, many of those jobs aren’t “green” per se, because if someone is a floor sweeper in a green factory, that worker is considered a “green worker.” But if that same person sweeps floors in a hotel or restaurant, they’re not considered a green employee. It’s simply reporting the statistics to control the perception.

    • Outcomes matter. If someone sweeps the floor at a hospital I would think of them as contributing to health care. But if the same person swept the floor at a tobacco company or an oil company, I wouldn’t think of them as part of health care. Similarly, repairing the motor on an ambulance leads to different outcomes than repairing the motor on a coal excavator. That’s what makes life’s decisions so difficult for the ethically minded, you can’t just pick an occupation. Instead you have to look all the way upstream and all the way downstream. The mere act of looking consumes precious time and finances, but its worth it in the end.

    • Doesn’t seem like deception to me. If there was no company within the ‘green’ sector to create that job, it wouldn’t exist. Hence it’s a green job.

      I’m fairly sure most people don’t think that there will suddenly be an army of engineers, and installers. They’re aware that the creation of green jobs also entails jobs ‘around’ the green industry.

    • If that floor sweeper job was created because a “green” plant opened I’d call it a green job.

      I’m sure that when we see numbers for those working in the oil industry Exxon and Chevron don’t subtract out the number of employees who work as janitors, secretaries, etc.

      Clearly floor sweepers in hotels and restaurants get counted in the total number of people working in the hospitality industry.

    • looks like others have already made my point, but i’ll just reiterate: if a new company is created to provide a new green service or good and it hires out-of-work people to support its green enterprise by doing a nontechnical job such as cleaning the floors or shuttling employees around, that seems very much like a legitimate new ‘green’ job to me — working in some way for a green purpose, hired by a green company = green job.

  • I’m finding the word “economy” to be increasingly confusing and depressing. For example, we’re about to enter the era where robots will receive the rights of personhood. If we get 100 billion robots producing items which they exchange with each other, does this constitute a functional economy? Assume, for fun that humans and all other life forms have been driven to extinction. If the robots are all working at full speed, does that mean the economy is good?

    • Adapting to the intelligent robot problem is a bit longer term than using technology to limit global warming but it will happen sooner than the beginning of the enlightenment is in the past. We’ll create smart robots capable of discovering new knowledge about the universe.

      This will lead to an exponential increase in robot capability as they take over our design role. The slow and error prone process of evolution by random variation and natural selection will not be able to keep up with that. Humans will have to draft the assistance of the robots in reengineering ourselves our clumsy design to keep up.

      We’ll evolve by design to become homo machina. Assuming that is, our robot President has emancipated us.

      • Thanks Ross, I agree with your comments. I spent part of the day listened to several economists promoting the utopian notion that massive economic growth is about to begin. I guess my questions were simply a reaction to the complete lack of any ecological consideration among these speakers. Can a real economy even exist when most things are produced by robotic machinery? Can a real economy exist if the ecosystem is in decline?

        My stab at some fuzzy logic would be…
        1.) Humans have economies, animals don’t.
        2.) Humans have intentions (plans/hopes), animals don’t.
        3.) Perhaps economics is a study of Human intentions.
        4.) If robots develop intentions, they can have economies.

        But equally importantly,

        5.) A destroyed ecosystem will destroy Human intentions. IE – Who wants to save for a holiday if the all camp grounds are toxic? Going through history we see that economic decline usually happens in step with ecologic decline.

        • Being a bit more serious I think it is clear that sustainability is key to whether a healthy economy can last. We’re still on a course that will result in disaster for much life on earth. The ecosystem is not a benign Spaceship Earth designed as a life support system for humans. Most of the world would quickly result in death for humans. e.g. Sleep rough for the night without any clothes or shelter. Civilisation uses its knowledge to keep the population alive against a basically hostile environment.

          There’s a huge amount of energy arriving from the Sun that can be benignly collected using Wind, Solar, hydro and in future probably wave. There’s more energy available from the formation of the earth and solar system: geothermal, tides.

          Removing barriers to what is good for sustainability and restricting the unsustainable looks like a pre-requisite for a good economy. It will be a massive boost to the whole world as the jobs it will create will be distributed widely and it will reduce the numbers of people working in unsustainable areas of the economy.

  • Looking around the world I see high unemployment and low costs of capital. It seems like a perfect time to build infrastructure to cut CO2 emissions.

    • I totally agree.

      A couple of days ago Larry Summers (economist, Sec of State under Clinton, etc.) wrote an op-ed piece opining that this was a perfect time for the government to borrow money and spend it for future good.

      Interest/bond rates are so low that if we got the economy going by the time it was time to pay back the money we would have to pay back less than we borrowed, due to inflation.

      Borrow some money. Make loans available to wind farms and large solar arrays. Give them very sweet interest rates. Create jobs (tax revenue). Stimulate local economies (tax revenue). Start a profit stream from the new installations (tax revenue). And then get the money back and pay off the bonds.

      Risk? Low. Close to no wind farms or solar arrays “fail”. A few might “stumble” but someone can pick up the pieces and complete the job. The components are mature technology.

      • That only works if the businesses created are viable. In general “green” industry has proven not to be. If they don’t make money they are unable to pay back the principle. Minus the subsidies, both hidden and visible, solar and wind farms are not viable.

        • Would you hold all other emerging technologies to that standard?

          Do you believe we should have never built the intercontinental railroad because we had to give the railroad companies subsidies to get it done?

          Would you advocate for stopping the satellite industry because the first rockets failed?

          Would you advocate for no personal computers because 170 computer manufacturers failed?

          Have you ever contemplated the cost of computer hardware when it first emerged?

          I paid a bit over $8,000 (2011 dollars) in 1983 for a 30 MB hard drive. That’s $266,667 per gig.

          Now I can buy a 1.5 TB drive for $130. That’s $0.09 per gig. A 3,000,000x price drop.

          Solar panels cost $50+ per watt a few years back. Now they are dropping under $1/watt.

          The price of electricity from wind has fallen to at least a third of what it was only a few decades ago.

          The price of both wind and solar will continue drop, especially solar. Wind is expected to drop only another 20% or so.

          Subsidies are necessary for a while longer. They are investments in our future. We are going to end up with inexpensive electricity from wind and solar and without the problems of burning fossil fuels.

          Patience grasshopper….

          • 0.5% of global GDP is direct government subsidies to fossil fuel consumers. Until all FF subsidies are eliminated, both direct and indirect, I have little interest in entertaining calls for ending subsidies to alternatives.

        • Solar, before any subsidy, is the cheapest source of electricity for consumers in Australia. Our coal power is cheaper than our wind power, but only if externalities such as climate change, particulates, and heavy metals are ignored. So minus the subsidies, both hidden and visible, coal power is not viable.

  • Economies as they are now, running on old non-green metrics are not capable to absorb more sustainable position. Aim to reduce, un contraire, unbalanced system will create more poverty! E.g. IEA recently released “Goldenrules” guidelines just a week after EU announced gas as a green energy. Now in EU gas and renewables are competing for the same innovation funds, and that’s basically one unfair race. Rio+20 should start from that I’d say. The unity on their proposals.

    • Don’t see why that is true. Non-green is mainly energy from fossil fuels and we’ve got affordable alternatives almost perfected. We need somewhat better grid storage, continued drops in solar panels, and higher capacity EV batteries.

      If we do honest accounting renewable electricity will be cheaper than coal produced electricity. Once the price of EV batteries drop it will be significantly cheaper to drive with electricity (we have already reached parity).

      We’re not going to run out of energy and we’re not going to pay significantly more for our energy, quite possibly less.

  • Why is it that the house and senate and the white house blather on about jobs but do little in the way of making (or at least helping) a green economy? We are up against the wall and all that they can do is run around pointing their fingers at each other….it’s enough to make a sane person lose their mind, I mean, what in the hell are they thinking? Here an answer stares them in the face…………..

    • Here’s my take.

      The Republicans very badly want President Obama to fail so that they can get one of there people into the White House which will allow them to reduce taxes on the wealthy/corporations and eliminate social programs.

      Republicans want to eliminate financial and environmental regulations so that corporations can make more profits.

      They are willing to keep the economy in bad shape in order to further their ends.

      Please do not put everyone in Congress and the White House in the same bucket and toss them overboard. Spend a little energy and try to determine who would vote for legislation that would improve the country and who would turn us into a bunch of serfs.

      Remember, Republicans control the House of Representatives. The President cannot sign a piece of legislation that would help the green economy unless both the House and Senate first send it to him.

      Don’t blame the carpenter for not finishing your house if you haven’t sent him the materials he needs.

      We haven’t given President Obama the Congress he needs to move the country forward.

      Bit choice in November. Hand control to Democrats and get back to work, leave the government divided and accomplish little, turn control over to Republicans and our lives over to corporations.

      • Yea, those Republicans are a bunch of fuk-wits.

        • If the democrats get a majority back they need to stop arguing amongst themselves and actually use it next time to vote through some green bills. The GOP are a-holes but they know how to use a majority when they have it.

  • I believe it will create a heck of a lot more jobs, at the much-needed local normal skills level, than we’ll ever ‘generate’ from fossil and nuclear ‘big’ projects. Not only short-term either, because the nature of renewables is ongoing WITH NO FINITE LIMITS on its development. Imagine an abundance of cheap power readily available from nearby sources particularly on territory in arid,rocky areas hitherto written off as unproductive.Minerals will become economic to mine, fostering ‘boom’ new communities. Power-hungry processes previously not feasible will become viable.
    This is going to be a noble’ Industrial Revolution Mk 2′ springboarded by techniques nurtured in our ‘Industrial Revolution Mk 1’ which is nearing the end of its potential.
    And who could possibly have envisaged the outcome of ‘Mk 1’ when James Watt’s kettle boiled over!

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