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Want to create 8 million new energy jobs? Meet climate targets

A new study shows what an energy industry that meets the goals of the Paris Agreement would look like.

Want to create 8 million new energy jobs? Meet climate targets
[Photo: Ali Atmaca/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images]
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If the world meets the goals of the Paris Agreement, not only could we stave off the worst effects of climate change and keep warming well below 2 degrees Celsius, we could add 8 million energy sector jobs by 2050, according to a new study.

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Currently, about 18 million people work in the global energy industry, extracting oil and coal, refining and producing energy, and manufacturing wind and solar systems. Reaching our climate targets by 2050 would increase that total by nearly 50% to 26 million. If we don’t reach those goals and continue under the current policy scenario, energy sector jobs would increase to 21 million in the same time period.

Though aligning with the Paris Agreement would mean fewer fossil fuel jobs, those losses, says Johannes Emmerling, study author and environmental economist at the European Institute on Economics and the Environment, “can be more than compensated by new jobs” in renewable energy.

For the study, which was published in the journal One Earth, Emmerling and his colleagues spent two years collecting data for 50 countries about the kinds of jobs currently available to pair with models that make job projections. This differs from most studies that project climate job growth, which tend to only look at OECD countries or U.S.-specific data and generalize results for the rest of the world from there. This study also narrowed the definition of “energy jobs” to only those within the energy system, not adjacent sectors like improving the energy efficiency of buildings or the production of electric vehicles.

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Of the total energy system jobs in 2050, 84% would be in the renewables sector, 11% in fossil fuels, and 5% in nuclear. The granular, geographic survey does show that some countries may be more ready for this Paris-aligned economy than others. China, for instance, would have fewer energy jobs overall in 2050 because it would lose many coal jobs that it currently relies on. “The point is there’s a huge potential [job] gain, but it might be in different places,” Emmerling says. Some regions may need to implement specific policies in order to attract renewable jobs—and they should, he adds, because clearly, there’s an overall job gain to be had.

The idea of dwindling coal jobs is still concerning for some politicians, countries that rely on coal, and the people who currently work in the sector—and countries should consider how to help those workers transition to renewable jobs, Emmerling says. (Next, he and his colleagues plan to look at this shift not just in terms of job totals but with regard to skill levels, education requirements, and wages, to figure out more specifically what types of jobs will be lost and what ones will be created.)

But overall, “all losses brought up against the transition to a more sustainable green economy are actually positive in the end,” he says. Those job losses will be offset by even more job gains, plus all the other benefits of sticking to a well-below 2 degree warming reality. Other research has continued to show this, too. A recent World Resources Institute report found an annual federal investment of $55 billion in the U.S.’s new climate economy over five years would send nearly $15 billion to rural America, where many coal jobs are currently located. That investment would support 260,000 jobs in rural counties and add $21.7 billion per year to rural economies.

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Just like those positives, the overall potential global job growth in the energy sector “is important to take into account,” Emmerling says, “for, let’s say, debunking some of the myths that say ‘climate policies will destroy our economy.'”