Why Green jobs matter

London's Green MEP explains the potential for green jobs to transform our economy and our environment

Jean Lambert

The UN climate agreement in Paris demonstrated global unity in understanding that greenhouse gas emissions must be reduced urgently to avoid climate catastrophe and keep temperature rise under 1.5 degrees. The newly-adopted Sustainable Development Goals, which apply to all countries, also present new challenges - not least Goal 12,'Ensure sustainable consumption and production patterns'.

Greens have long argued that climate change, environmental destruction, resource depletion and the growth of inequalities require responses that will fundamentally transform our economies. A big part of this is how our economies restructure and what that means for jobs.

When low- or zero-carbon, environment-friendly activities replace carbon-intensive activities, there are major economic and employment changes - not all of them welcome for those involved. This is why change has to be managed and workers and communities should be engaged in the process and not left behind by change, as we saw happen in the UK in the 1980s.

Green jobs relate to a range of sectors, including energy, resource use, waste management, transport and innovation, such as eco-design, but most jobs can be made 'lighter on the earth'.

The International Labour Organization (ILO) offers a widely adopted definition of green jobs: 'Jobs are green when they help reduce negative environmental impact ultimately leading to environmentally, economically and socially sustainable enterprises and economies.'

Crucially, it also requires that these jobs are decent jobs. This includes a clear social and economic justice element, which is central to green politics. Truly green jobs should be jobs with decent pay, terms and conditions.

Looking at identified environmental sectors, the European Commission estimates that the EU's environmental economy accounts for 4.3 million full-time jobs - more than the car industry. A broader definition would show a higher number of green jobs.

During the economic crisis, Europe's environmental sectors have demonstrated much greater resilience than other sectors. Many jobs in these sectors are by necessity connected to their location. They cannot be offshored: energy-efficient homes, on- shore wind, and better recycling facilities can all provide local work even if the number of jobs can only be estimated. Many Greens will be familiar with 'One Million Climate Jobs', written by numerous UK trade unions and the Campaign Against Climate Change. The publication looks at how many UK jobs could be created to tackle climate change whilst dealing with the economic crisis. Whether climate jobs are created on this scale will depend in large part on the political will, and we are seeing little from the UK government. But 'One Million Climate Jobs' shows what could be achieved.

The potential for green jobs will only be realised if the right framework is set by government and lawmakers. There is a clear need for policy coherence and stability if we are to invest in new technologies and skills. We are losing jobs in many sectors, such as solar and on-shore wind, due to the current government's policy reversals. Big job market changes need investment in skills and a commitment to retrain workers so they can move from high-impact jobs to low-impact ones. Trade unions rightly call for a commitment to the five pillars of a 'Just Transition', to ensure workers are treated fairly, retrained, given access to newly-created jobs and have their rights protected.

The European Parliament also added its support to this when it adopted the Green Employment Initiative report that I drafted initially.

There is a gradual change of direction. The European Union's recent 'circular economy' proposals are also important for jobs. The initiative seeks to increase and add economic value to those activities, practices and innovations that reduce Europe's material consumption and improve resource efficiency while creating more than half-a-million jobs in the process.

It is hard to say how many jobs could be created in the UK as much will depend on whether the government decides it wants to embrace or resist the need for change: will it go for warm homes or luxury flats; renewables or nuclear; more jobs or fewer? But the positive potential is huge - for our economy, for workers and for the planet - and Greens recognise that.

Jean was rapporteur for the European Parliament's Green Employment Initiative report and co-chairs the EP Green Group's Green Jobs working group. Follow her on Twitter, @GreenJeanMEP, or visit her website for more: www.jeanlambertmep.org.uk