The future of work in a low carbon economy

The Future of Work in a Low Carbon Economy


The inevitable global transition to a low carbon economy presents an opportunity to address two pressing issues of our time – the climate crisis and income inequality.

Eighteen to twenty-five-year-olds – who are about to become the largest demographic group in the work force – consistently identify climate change as an urgent issue. Many young people understand that they will likely be the first to experience the worst effects of climate change. Simultaneously, today’s youth also face increasingly precarious, part-time employment as they enter the labour force.

Countries like Germany and China are well on their way to reaching their emission goals through ambitious climate policies that require many more workers to implement. China has, by far, made the largest investments and recently announced it will put an additional $361B into renewable power generation by 2020 that will create 13 million jobs.

China has also made clear its intention to derive 50% of new power needs from renewables by 2020.

In California, climate policies have created over 500,000 good, family-supporting jobs. State-certified apprenticeship programs funded with joint employer and employee contributions ensured skilled workers were ready to build a clean energy infrastructure. And, as UC Berkeley researchers were surprised to discover, many of these jobs were created in areas of the state with high unemployment and low income levels.

Here at home, while oil and gas currently represent a mere 3.4 % of our provincial GDP, the sector seems to punch above its weight when it comes to influencing the provincial jobs plan. The government’s updated jobs plan is still overly focused on yet-to-materialize LNG projects.

Instead, local governments are doing the heavy lifting on green job creation. Municipalities like Nelson and Summerland, and First Nations communities like the Lower Nicola Indian Band near Merritt, are building innovative, community-owned solar arrays.  New municipal by-laws and building codes are creating green jobs for tradespeople. And local incentive programs are helping residents retrofit their homes for energy efficiency.

Local leaders should be commended for their efforts. but the lack of provincial leadership means BC is playing catch-up with our trading partners when it comes to building a low carbon economy that could put people to work today and tomorrow.

So, let’s give this our best thinking. What could BC’s climate and jobs strategy look like? To begin, let’s stop thinking about them as two separate things. Around the globe, climate policy is driving green job growth. In fact, every one million dollars invested creates fifteen jobs in clean energy compared to two jobs in the oil and gas sector.

While we may have already been lapped, the starting line in the race to create good, green jobs in BC is not hard to find and doesn’t require technological discoveries. For example, residential and commercial buildings can account for up to 30% of GHG emissions and we have the know-how today to make a significant difference in energy efficiency. With a growing population, public transportation is more important than ever and doesn’t require mega projects to solve. Sustainable forestry management could create more jobs and higher value products.

The low carbon economy requires many of the same skills and occupations: engineers, accountants, tradespeople, teachers, installers, programmers, administrators and communicators – just to name a few. But the first step is a provincial climate and jobs plan that recognizes what other jurisdictions already know: if you want to fix climate change, create an economy that values reducing emissions and then make it someone’s job.

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Originally published in Teacher Magazine (March 2017), the article is available online here

Helesia Luke is the Coordinator of Green Jobs BC is an alliance of labour and environmental groups.

About Centre for Civic Governance

The Centre for Civic Governance works to support community leadership meeting today’s social and environmental challenges: climate change, Canada’s increasing equity gap, and shifting social trends. At the Centre for Civic Governance, our goal is to strengthen Canadian communities through sharing best practices, providing tools for locally elected leaders, and progressive policy analysis. We strive to provide knowledge and information to make real and positive social change.