The report says that delivery of a "deep and decisive new climate agreement" when countries meet for the crucial UN climate convention meeting in Copenhagen in late 2009 will be vital for accelerating green job growth. The subject of intense international negotiations for the past two years, the agreement would be the successor to the Kyoto Protocol which expires at the end of 2012.
Entitled "Green Jobs: Towards Decent work in a Sustainable, Low-Carbon World," the UN report released Wednesday finds that changing patterns of employment and investment resulting from efforts to reduce climate change and its effects are already generating new jobs in many sectors and economies, and could create millions more in both developed and developing countries.
Worker at Planar Energy Devices holds an advanced lithium-ion battery (Photo courtesy Planar Energy Devices)
Yet, the process of climate change will continue to have negative effects on workers and their families, especially those whose livelihoods depend on agriculture and tourism, the UN report also finds.
"What this report is about from the perspective of sustainability is to show the policymakers that with the right incentives, the right research and development support programmes, there is massive potential here for new economic sectors to emerge," UNEP Executive Director Achim Steiner said at a news conference in New York on Wednesday.
He noted that amid the current financial turmoil seen in different parts of the world, countries will spend hundreds of billions of dollars in coming months to stabilize the global economy.
"Imagine for a moment if some of the stimulus packages that are now being developed could be targeted towards not maintaining and sustaining the old economy of the 20th century but investing in the new economy of the 21st century," he said.
Action to tackle climate change as well as to cope with its effects is "urgent" and should be designed to generate decent jobs, the report states.
The report was funded and commissioned by the UN Environment Programme under a joint Green Jobs Initiative with the International Labour Office, and the International Trade Union Confederation and the International Organization of Employers, which together represent millions of workers and employers worldwide.
It was produced by the Worldwatch Institute, an independent research organization based in Washington, DC, with technical assistance from the Cornell University Global Labour Institute.
Green jobs are already being created throughout the world. In China, 600,000 people are already employed in solar thermal making and installing products such as solar water heaters, according to a study cited in the new report. In South Africa, 25,000 previously unemployed people are now employed in conservation as part of the Working for Water initiative.
Green jobs are on the horizon for other countries as well. In Nigeria, a biofuels industry based on cassava and sugar cane crops may sustain an industry employing 200,000 people.
India could generate 900,000 jobs by 2025 in biomass gasification of which 300,000 would be in the manufacturing of stoves and 600,000 in areas such as processing into briquettes and pellets and the fuel supply chain, the study estimates.
Though the report is generally optimistic about the creation of new jobs to address climate change, it also warns that many of these new jobs can be "dirty, dangerous and difficult."
Sectors of concern include agriculture and recycling where all too often low pay, insecure employment contracts and exposure to health hazardous materials needs to change fast, the report states.
The report warns that too few green jobs are being created for the most vulnerable.
These vulnerable people are the 1.3 billion working poor, who make up 43 percent of the global workforce and earn too little to lift them and their dependants above the poverty threshold of US$2 per person, per day, and the estimated 500 million youth who will be seeking work over the next 10 years.
International Labor Organization Director-General Juan Somavia introduces the report at UN Headquarters. (Photo courtesy UN)
"We need to make sure that green jobs are decent jobs," said ILO Director-General Juan Somavia. "As the report makes clear, building a low-carbon economy is not only about technology or finances, it's about peoples and societies. It's about a cultural change to a greater environmental consciousness and opportunities for decent work."
"New jobs will be created, others adapted and some will fade out. In order to keep the political will and the public support, we will have to put policies in place that have to focus from the beginning on those at the receiving end of this transition," he said.
The report focuses on green jobs in agriculture, industry, services and administration that contribute to preserving or restoring the quality of the environment. It also calls for measures to ensure that they constitute "decent work" that helps reduce poverty while protecting the environment.
The report calls for "just transitions" for those affected by transformation to a green economy and for those who must also adapt to climate change with access to alternative economic and employment opportunities for enterprises and workers.
According to the report, meaningful social dialogue between government, workers and employers will be essential not only to ease tensions and support better informed and more coherent environmental, economic and social policies, but for all social partners to be involved in the development of such policies.
Among other key findings in the report:
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