For greener pastures: Slowly but gradually, green jobs are becoming the order of the day

There is a colour distinction in the different kind of jobs that exist in the market today. White and blue collar jobs have become passé. Off late a new job category has emerged that has caught the fancy of many. It is referred to as 'green/low carbon' jobs and has become one of the most used phrases in the lexicons of politicians and corporates. For some, it is emergence of new employment opportunities in a limited job market and a route out of unemployment. For others, particularly for the environmentalists, they are crucial for combating climate change. With the attention that these jobs have garnered with respect to climate change action, it does not come as a surprise that what perhaps began as rhetoric to counter climate negativity is now developing into an area with extraordinary promises.

But not everybody is excited by this new category of jobs. Some argue that these are mere trendy phrases that have gained popularity and have ambiguous meanings and connotations with little agreement on what constitutes a green/low carbon job. As terms like low carbon jobs, green jobs, clean energy jobs, are often used interchangeably and therefore, cause confusion. Due to the associated ambiguities, common definitions often limit such jobs to certain industries that are generally regarded as green.

For example, in the US green jobs are often defined solely as those related to renewable energy and energy efficiency. The ILO refers to low carbon employment as "economically viable employment which reduces environmental impacts to sustainable levels". There are some which refer to employment in sectors that 'make up the clean energy economy', including energy efficiency, renewables, alternative transport and fuels as low carbon jobs. The UNEP recognises these jobs as either those that conserve energy or help realise alternative sources of energy and thereby accelerate the transition of global economies to low carbon pathways. However, there is also a wider interpretation of the concept looking beyond energy and linking low carbon issues to a broader set of environmental activities that include conservation and rehabilitation to preserve bio-diversity, restore degraded land, combat erosion and remove invasive aliens.

Irrespective of the hazy definitions, renewable energy investments are expected to rise. This can broadly generate two types of employment opportunities: Direct and indirect.

Direct employment includes jobs created in manufacturing, design, construction, installation, operation and maintenance of the different components of the technology. Indirect jobs refer to jobs created in the supply chain or those jobs that get created through 'multiplier effect'. For example, there are important jobs such as that of consultants who are key actors in the growth of renewable energy technologies as they play a vital role in the penetration of these technologies. Also professional profiles like those of energy auditors and energy managers are not directly linked with low carbon jobs but they often play an important role in promoting energy efficient technologies. Also it is important to consider that services provided by these indirect jobs are often a pre-requisite for deployment of low carbon technologies.

Of the many sectors that can offer low carbon employment, renewables contribute a significant number. Irrespective of the above arguments, jobs in renewables are likely to grow as industries, business and economies by large shift to renewable energy. These numbers are expected to increase in the next few decades as State and national Governments have mandated to increase the share of renewables in the energy mix.

Despite the failure of the climate negotiations at Copenhagen to reach a legally binding treaty to limit Green House Gas emissions, it is widely accepted that action with respect to construction of windmills, solar power and bio-mass plants will continue. This will not only have positive implications for energy security but also have environmental, economic, social, and technological development.

It is challenging to gauge the total number of green jobs that exist nationwide. The job of a welder at wind turbine factory is considered as a green/low carbon job, but what about the factory's accountant? While the first is direct job the latter is an indirect job.

India is emerging as one of the destinations with a huge low carbon employment potential. According to a TERI study, which assesses the potential of direct employment creation in India with respect to transition of energy sector to a low carbon pathway with a focus on the solar and wind energy sectors, notes that if the Government targets are achieved as scheduled, more than two lakh jobs could be created in the wind sector by 2020. For solar photovoltaic, these numbers add up to two lakh jobs. The study also notes that up to 10 million jobs have been estimated by various studies in the bio-fuels sector if Government achieves its target of village coverage and industrial bio-fuel production. Though these numbers are indicative in nature, they put forth a strong case for low carbon employment potential that exists in India and how it can be one of the important co-benefits of investment in the renewables.

The multiplier effect of promoting renewable energy sector is also expected to be substantial. For example, the jobs so created would require specialised skill sets both at technical and administrative level. There would be requirement for different types of professionals in R&D, planning, execution, operation and maintenance of technology.

An important step towards this would be to identify the gaps that exist in the present skill sets in the work force. Policies and programmes that facilitate capacity building and skill development could be incorporated in areas like the workforce with required skills are timely available for different stages of the technology. Also a parallel process could be initiated to identify appropriate national and State level authorities that can provide training and build capacity to address the gaps that exists. An integrated approach is thus required that considers the associated co-benefits while formulating policies and programme for these sectors.