Sheep grazing underneath solar panels at Oregon State University.

Paris Agreement action could boost energy jobs by eight million

Image credit: Oregon State University

Researchers have created a model to analyse how efforts to meet Paris Agreement climate targets will affect energy sector jobs, finding that decarbonisation action would increase net jobs by around eight million by 2050, primarily in solar and wind power.

“Currently, an estimated 18 million people work in the energy industries – a number that is likely to increase, not decrease, to 26 million or by over 50 per cent if we reach our global climate targets,” said co-author Dr Johannes Emmerling, an environmental economist at the RFF-CMCC European Institute on Economics and the Environment in Italy.

“Manufacturing and installation of renewable energy sources could potentially become about one third of the total of these jobs, for which countries can also compete in terms of location.”

The study is based on a global dataset of 'job footprints' in 50 countries, including major fossil fuel-producing economies. The dataset used in this study included data from China, India, Russia, Mexico, Brazil, Nigeria, Saudi Arabia and other additions. The team combined their dataset with an integrated assessment model to make their employment predictions. Previously, analysis has almost always relied on jobs data for OECD countries and generalised the results for the rest of the world.

While the technologies to replace fossil fuels are widely available, political support for their expansion is often dependent on their impact on jobs in the fossil fuel sector. During his campaign for the 2016 US presidential election, Donald Trump referred to coal miners almost 300 times, while Australian prime minister Scott Morrison won re-election on a platform vowing to protect the fossil fuel industry and its related jobs.

In the model, of the total jobs in 2050, 84 per cent would be in the renewables sector, 11 per cent in fossil fuels and five per cent in nuclear. While fossil fuel-extraction jobs (accounting for 80 per cent of current fossil fuel jobs) would rapidly decline, those losses will be compensated for by gains in solar and wind manufacturing jobs (7.7 million in 2050).

Jobs in the energy sector overall would grow from 18 million to 21 million in the reference scenario (average temperature within 2°C of pre-industrial levels) and to 26 million in the more ambitious well-below 2°C scenario.

“Extraction sector jobs are more susceptible to decarbonisation, so there needs to be just transition policies in place," said first author Dr Sandeep Pai. “For example, the mobility of manufacturing jobs will be useful in areas where decarbonisation is rife. In many cases, fossil fuel workers also hold political influence because of their history and high rates of unionisation among others, so as we move to low-carbon sources it is important to have a plan in place for the general acceptability of climate policies.”

The team’s next goal is to explore the shifts in skill levels, education requirements and wages that may result from trying to meet the global climate target of the Paris Agreement.

Speaking to E&T in December, the employment minister Mims Davies said that a green recovery from the coronavirus pandemic presents great opportunities for those watching their sector “languishing”.

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