Green job ads are at an all time high, making up almost 1.8% of all jobs advertised. Data from the GreenJob Index, which tracks the monthly fluctuations of green job ads, shows green jobs are up a further 6% this month, up from 2574 jobs last month to 2730 this month.
The pursuit of green-collar jobs—employment that contributes to protecting the environment and reducing humanity’s carbon footprint—is a key social and economic driver here in Australia. Those figures must not lull us into complacency though. A major review by the CSIRO and the Bureau of Meteorology shows greenhouse gas emissions and temperatures are at an all time high.
Clearly there is still much work to be done. Climate-proofing the Australian economy will involve large-scale investments in new technologies, equipment, buildings, and infrastructure, providing a major stimulus for much-needed new employment and an opportunity for retaining and transforming existing jobs. The government’s Clean Energy Future program is making a great start in this direction but some believe it doesn’t go far enough. One such person is Julien Lacave, General Manager of Carbon and Energy for GreenCollar Talent. “Some countries are being more forward-thinking, building more competitive economies with better trained workforces and preparing for the future. The low carbon economies are high capital economies, and this includes human capital. In the JM Keynes tradition, solid Government intervention is essential in developing smart grids, clean energy capacity, carbon pricing and energy efficiency advancements. I believe we aren’t seeing effective leadership and effective implementation of such policies here in Australia.”
Although the renewable energy sector has made great strides recently and investment in this area is now booming, for many the disappointment in the support for the solar sector has overshadowed other projects. Julien explains that whilst the size of the world solar photovoltaic market has grown exponentially over the past 30 years, and the price of a cell has decreased so much , the Australian solar industry is lagging far behind the rest of the industrialised world. “It is unbelievable to me that in Australia we only have 350Mw installed with just 200,000 homes with solar PV on their roof. If we contrast this with, Germany, a world leader in Solar PV, 13% of the electricity comes from solar energy. Two thirds of the world’s current 17GW of solar PV installed capacity are actually in Germany.” he says. “This data shows a massive gap in Australia that needs to be seriously addressed if we want to reduce carbon pollution whilst at the same time remaining a competitive economy.”
The potential for green jobs is immense. But much of it will not materialise without massive and sustained investments by the public and private sectors. Although the Australian government is establishing a firm framework for greening all aspects of the economy, with the help of targets and compliance mandates, business incentives, and the Carbon Tax as well as grants and subsidies, it will also be critical to develop innovative forms of technology transfer to spread green methods around the world at the scale and speed required to avoid full-fledged climate change. Julien believes investors do not necessarily pick the technology of the future, more often than not they are lured by the cheapest technologies. “Governments have to design policies that will keep the best and cleanest energy options. De-carbonisation of an economy does not necessarily mean de-industrialisation. Investors need to think long term and it is a concern to see some lack of imagination that we are seeing right now with energy options.” he says.
To achieve Australia’s low carbon targets it’s also vital to provide as many workers as possible with the qualifications they will increasingly need, an expansion of green education, training, and skill-building programs in a broad range of occupations is crucial. In Australia mining and other energy-intensive industries will be feeling the greatest impact in transitioning to a low-carbon future. Regions and communities highly dependent on these industries will need assistance in diversifying and broadening their skills to include those traditionally viewed as ‘green’. Heavy reliance on one sector is unsound practise. Julien suggests that it is important that we start to become a ‘clever’ Nation, investing more into early childhood development, education and training, health and well being, new technologies, and to boosting innovation in the food and energy generation industries. “The human capital embedded in our population is important and we have the resources to become a leading nation in this respect,” he says.
These cautionary aspects highlight the need for sustainable employment to be good not only for the environment but also for the people holding the jobs. Still, Julien believes that an economy which reconciles human aspirations with the planet’s limits is eminently possible. “Productivity is not just about GDP growth. Concern for factors such as our national well-being and the quality of our environment must at some point start to translate to action. Like our resource sector, we have the raw material to be a world leader in environment and sustainability measures.”