“Green Jobs: Pick One”

Opening remarks of Session II: Low Carbon Economies and the Labour Market

 

By Kenneth Neil Cukier

Japan Business Correspondent, The Economist

 

Green Jobs for Asia and the Pacific: Research Conference

International Labor Organization - Niigata, Japan - April 21, 2008

 

*          *          *

 

Good afternoon. Konichi-wa.

 

Let me begin by praising the organizers of today’s event for inviting me here today in the most astute of ways. Everyone knows that to invite a journalist to an event with the words “Research Conference” in the title is a sure-fire way to make certain he doesn’t come. But to ask a journalist to moderate a panel -- and thereby appeal to his inherent megalomania -- ensures that he will attend. So I praise the organizers for their cleverness in getting me here today. And I thank them, too, since the conference has been so enlightening.

 

It is clear that we really do not know much about the relationship between employment and climate change. The idea of “green-collar jobs” is an appealing one. It probably is going to be a major force in the labour market of the future. As Raymond Torres, the director of the ILO International Institute for Labour Studies, noted this morning, the only way climate change is going to be addressed is through jobs -- and that this will have important implications on employment globally.

 

Yet I cannot help but note that there seems to be a sort of schizophrenia when we talk about “Green Jobs” -- as if people in the dialogue are putting the emphasis on different words; be it “green” or “jobs.” There are some whose focus is on establishing better jobs and alleviating poverty -- admirable social goals -- and see climate change as a catalyst to new forms of employment to accomplish this. On the other hand, there are people who see Green Jobs as a way to address climate change and thereby save the world -- the jobs per se are merely a means to an end.

 

The complexity of the issue is apparent in the remarks of some of the speakers earlier today. For instance, how do we calculate the benefits? Ronnie Schöb of the Free University of Berlin noted that Germany’s Green Jobs provided a “double dividend” because increased public revenues from the employment can be used to cut taxes on labour that companies pay.

 

Yet the problem with this model is that if labour taxes are not cut, no extra dividend arises. And the approach is only applicable in the European Union where there are high labour charges -- it does not cross-apply well to the United States, and even less well to developing countries.

 

Moreover, Green Jobs entail potent tradeoffs in practice. Olivier Deleuze of the United Nations Environment Programme provided a rich example. A Norwegian oil company worker has a very decent and safe job, but it is absolutely not green. Meanwhile, a worker at a windfarm in China has a green job, but it is hardly decent. The green economy of recycling can actually create gruesome jobs, as Peter Poschen of the ILO highlighted, by looking at the shipbreakers of Bangladesh.

 

Still, the difficulty of the topic must not prevent us from considering it. These challenging issues are all happening under a stopwatch. Governments are negotiating restrictions on carbon emissions that may come into force as soon as 2012. It will have huge effects on investment flows, international business decisions and the allocation of resources. It is vital that we have solid data with which to understand what how employment and climate change interrelates.

 

Yet we are stuck with contradictions: what is our priority: good jobs, or saving the planet? As a thought experiment, consider a situation whereby we could avert climate change, but it entailed a reduction in employment, or many unsafe, unattractive jobs? Would attendees here today welcome this or not? Frankly, with the stakes of climate change what they are, society may feel the tradeoff is acceptable even if people working in the area of employment might not.

 

These perspectives colour the theme of this afternoon’s panel. Where previously we considered how Green Jobs might look in industrialized countries and how government policies can support them, in this session our focus changes. We will look at how these issues play out in the developing world, and note some of the working examples in the private sector that support it. How can we build an environment for Green Jobs to take hold?

 

Today’s panelists are particularly well suited to discuss these themes. Following an overview presentation by Ashok Khosla, the chairman of Development Alternatives in India, we will hear from:

 

* Takahiro Hiraishi, Institute for Global Environmental Strategies, Japan

* Dipal C. Barua, Managing Director, Grameen Shakti, Bangladesh

* Ramin Keivani, Oxford Institute for Sustainable Development-International Land Markets, Department of Real Estate and Construction, Oxford Brookes University, UK

* Ibrahim Hafeezur Rehman, Director, Action Programmes Division, The Energy and Resources Institute, New Delhi, India

* Minoru Hoshiya, General Manager, Environment Planning Division, Canon Inc

 

# # #