The green economy, growth, and jobs are terms that anyone involved with policy discussions on climate change will be well accustomed to hearing, especially in recent years. But the economic model of a green economy would entail a substantive shift away from our current global economic paradigm, which is still, despite international efforts, heavily reliant on fossil fuels.
Though difficult, that shift promises opportunities for economic growth and potential jobs around the world for both men and women. But it’s an uphill battle, one that has and will, inevitably go up against cultural gender norms across different sectors and jobs.
Amongst myriad definitions, the UN Environment Programme describes the green economy as a low-carbon, resource-efficient, and socially inclusive economic model. Within this green economic prototype, governments and the private sector would stimulate growth through investments in economic activities that would narrow down carbon emissions, improve resource efficiency, and prevent the loss of biodiversity.
Under the green economy, green growth would mean fostering economic growth, while at the same time, ensuring that the planet’s natural resources on which we depend for our well-being are not depleted. This is no small feat.
The model’s tie to environmental sustainability is indisputable, but what risks getting left behind or forgotten is the element of social inclusivity that underpins the definition of the green economy.
Against the backdrop of widening social inequalities, and the stark reality that 20% of our planet’s developing countries’ populations are living on less than US$1.25 a day, confidence in the ability of governments to promote policies that enable widely shared social benefits has drastically fallen. And while green growth has often been referred to as a solution to long-term sustainable economic growth, it would require a complete overhaul of our current economic system.
In this scenario, success wouldn’t only be measured by GDP and other economic growth metrics, but also in improvements in social and environmental value, such as job creation and quality of employment, advancements in gender equality, sustainable use of resources and poverty reduction.
Events like COP27 serve as a testament to the efforts made at a global level to raise awareness and commit to plans to counter the effects of an increase in temperature above the Paris Agreement established 1.5 degrees and the depletion of our natural resources.
But the implementation of international sustainability commitments has not been easy. To offer a snapshot; if we match the UN Development Program’s development Index (the metric that scores levels of human development) against individual ecological footprints, we find that currently, no country meets the minimum criteria for sustainable development (i.e., high rates of development and a sustainable ecological footprint per person that could maintain our resources without depleting them for future generations).
There are, however, encouraging signs that suggest a seismic shift towards a more climate-friendly economic model is currently underway. The International Labour Organization estimates that 24 million jobs worldwide could be created by the green economy by 2030 alone.
Additionally, data from Linkedin offers a snapshot of current hiring trends that highlight how a transition, or at least a focus, to hire talent by addressing the capacity needs of the green economy is underway at a global scale. In fact, since 2017 the demand for new hires with green skills has steadily increased as governments and companies started setting out their sustainability targets.
While there is clear economic benefit in developing the green jobs infrastructure, skills shortages and a mismatch of job-seeker skills and what the employer needs are the most direct impediments to a sharper uptake in a gender-neutral context. While it’s clear what barriers women and minorities face, it will be also up to governments to promote policies and values that positively influence a less gendered stereotyping of work.
This is simply because most green jobs are expected to expand in sectors critical in the transition to a low-carbon economy such as renewable energy, transport infrastructure, and construction, which are currently and conventionally have been male-dominated.
Some predictions suggest that over 40% of green employment will be driven by investments in renewable energy, and 30% of green jobs are projected to appear in the construction sector. Lowering the carbon intensity of transport systems through an expansion of public infrastructure and fuel-efficient vehicles will also significantly contribute to the growth of the sector.
The greening of transport will directly impact manufacturing, which will have to develop by meeting greener transport and logistics industry demands. In addition, reducing waste generation and developing efficient disposal systems will also provide an opportunity for job creation.
Finally, jobs will be created in resource-based sectors including agriculture, fisheries, and forestry, particularly in developing countries.
While the green economy can be a door opener for women to gain a foothold in sectors of the economy where they still represent a minority, women may be unintentionally excluded from taking a share of these jobs as they’re currently under-represented in virtually all the fields the green economy will expand into – i.e., construction, manufacturing, energy, and engineering.
What’s critical as we shift towards a green economy for all is to remember that while green jobs will offer an opportunity to address the many pre-existing employment challenges faced by women in the current labour market, without government and private sector interventions on labour policies, education, and training, these opportunities may never bear fruit.
If governments and the private sector have an honest commitment to delivering a system that is sustainable towards its planet and people, they will not be able to turn a blind eye to diversifying the sectors that will be critical in transitioning the economy.