If some politicians are to be believed, taking sweeping action to meet the goals of the Paris climate agreement would be calamitous for jobs in the energy sector. But a study suggests that honouring the global climate target would, in fact, increase net jobs by about 8 million by 2050.
The study – in which researchers created a global dataset of the footprint of energy jobs in 50 countries including major fossil fuel-producing economies – found that currently an estimated 18 million people work in the energy industries, which is likely to increase to 26 million if climate targets are met.
Previous research suggests that pro-climate polices could increase net energy jobs by 20 million or more, but that work relied only on empirical data from the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) countries and generalised the results for the rest of the world using a multiplier. But the data varies dramatically across regions, driven by differences in technology and rates of unionisation, among other factors. For instance, extracting 1m tonnes of coal in India takes 725 workers, versus 73 in the US.
The latest analysis, published in the journal One Earth, combined such employment factors across a global dataset (including key fossil fuel, non-OECD economies such as Russia, India and China) with an integrated assessment model, which combines climate and economic estimates to predict the costs of climate change.
“This dataset makes the analysis more grounded in … reality, rather than using a multiplier,” said one of the study’s authors, Dr Sandeep Pai, who led the analysis as part of his PhD at the institute for resources, environment and sustainability at the University of British Columbia in Canada.
Under the target scenario of global temperatures being held well below 2C of pre-industrial levels, of the total jobs in the energy sector in 2050, 84% would be in the renewables sector, 11% in fossil fuels, and 5% in nuclear, the analysis found. Although fossil-fuel extraction jobs – which constitute the lion’s share (80%) of current fossil fuel jobs – will decline steeply, those losses should be offset by gains in solar and wind manufacturing jobs that countries could compete for, the researchers estimated.
However, while most countries will experience a net job increase, China and fossil fuel-exporting countries such as Canada, Australia and Mexico could have net losses.
Undoubtedly, there will be winners and losers. The winners will be people who take these jobs in the renewable sector, and there are the health benefits of fresh air and cleaner cities – but there will also be people, companies and governments who lose out, said Pai.
“That’s why … we want to work towards a ‘just’ transition, make sure nobody’s left behind,” he said. “The point is that unless politics and social context of different countries align, I think this technological transition will not happen soon.”
Johannes Emmerling, an environmental economist at the RFF-CMCC European Institute on Economics and the Environment in Italy, another author of the study, acknowledged that the analysis did not account for the gaps in skills.
People working in the fossil fuel industry do not necessarily have the expertise or the experience to carry out jobs in the renewable sector, but given that there are few estimates of jobs as the world aims to forge a greener future, the focus was on firming up estimates, he said, adding that skills were the next avenue of research.