Renewable energy revolution to create 100 million jobs by 2030
As humankind grapples with climate change, biodiversity loss and myriad other environmental issues, the world of work is also facing upheaval.
About six million people work in the oil and gas sector and more than 10 times as many are employed by the industry indirectly, according to the International Labour Organisation.
But as the world moves away from fossil fuels, that number is set to fall.
Going green is big business, however, so there will be more opportunities in fields like renewable energy, electric transport, energy efficiency and carbon capture and storage.
The International Renewable Energy Agency, which is based in Masdar City, Abu Dhabi, has calculated that $131 trillion will have to be spent by 2050 to achieve a low-carbon energy transition that will limit global temperature rises to manageable levels.
Even by 2030, this transition could create as many as 100 million jobs, according to the ILO.
According to the Global Green Skills Report 2022 from LinkedIn, the professional networking site, the number of jobs in renewable energy and the environment increased 237 per cent in the previous five years.
LinkedIn also said that the proportion of “green talent” in the global workforce jumped from 9.6 per cent in 2015 to 13.3 per cent in 2021.
Here we look at sectors that could see significant green job creation in the years to come.
Green energy growth
During a debate with Donald Trump before the 2020 presidential election in the US, the Democrat challenger, Joe Biden, highlighted the potential of wind energy to create jobs if the sector was prioritised.
“It's the fastest-growing jobs and they pay good prevailing wages, forty-five, fifty bucks an hour,” Mr Biden said. “We can grow and we can be cleaner if we go the route I'm proposing.”
Just over halfway through his four-year term as president, Mr Biden is seeing his focus on green growth paying dividends.
Since the passing last year of Mr Biden’s Inflation Reduction Act, which offers tax incentives and other sweeteners for investments in the likes of wind farms and electric car battery plants, reports say $35 billion has been invested in major green projects in the country, putting the US in pole position when it comes to green job creation.
The growth in investments in renewable energy is leading to rapid global increases in demand for people with the requisite skills.
Of the five green jobs that grew fastest between 2016 and 2021, according to LinkedIn, two relate specifically to renewable energy, with the number of wind turbine technicians increasing 24 per cent annually and solar consultants by 23 per cent.
In 2021, the number of jobs in renewable energy worldwide reached 12.7 million, according to Irena, with solar power providing 4.1 million of these. Total renewable energy jobs jumped 700,000 in a year, Irena said, despite the slump in activity caused by the Covid-19 pandemic.
A 2020 UK government report, “The Ten Point Plan for a Green Industrial Revolution,” said that the hydrogen energy sector — hydrogen is an emerging method for storing renewable energy — should support up to 10,000 jobs in the UK alone by 2030, a figure that could reach 100,000 by 2050.
Carbon capture and storage
Carbon capture and storage refers to technologies that capture carbon released by industrial activities, such as steel or cement production, so that it can be stored underground.
Many researchers have said there need to be large-scale efforts to lock away CO2 in addition to initiatives to reduce the amount of the greenhouse gas released into the atmosphere.
A report released last year by Deloitte and the Institute of Environmental Management and Assessment, “A blueprint for green workforce transformation,” described CCS as “a nascent green sector but one that has been highlighted as vital by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change”.
Once separated from other gases at industrial plants, the CO2 is transported by road, sea or pipelines, before being injected into underground rock formations.
Prof Susana Garcia, from the UK's Heriot-Watt University, which also has a campus in Dubai, said much existing oil and gas infrastructure could be used for CCS and the related practice of carbon capture, utilisation and storage. CCUS includes additional actions, for example using carbon dioxide to create building materials.
“In the UK and specifically in Scotland, we are in a very fortunate position because we’ve got all the assets and all the resources that are available in the North Sea … for the oil and gas industry, so there’s a lot going on in terms of how to repurpose all those assets and all that infrastructure for CCS and for CCUS,” she said.
“So there is a tremendous opportunity there to retrain people that have been working on those fields for many, many years and adapt their skills to the new jobs, to the green jobs that are going to be needed in the green economy.”
Prof Garcia said the transformation of the energy sector would not eliminate employment, but would change the jobs needed.
“All those jobs in the oil and gas industry, they cannot just be lost,” she said. “They will get transformed into the right ones for deploying low-carbon technologies like CCUS.”
A trend highlighted by experts is that many jobs created by the transition to a low-carbon economy are in sectors that would typically not be seen as green.
So last year’s Global Green Skills Report from LinkedIn highlighted roles such as data scientists or fleet managers, who may work in sectors that are reducing their carbon footprint.
Deloitte and the IEMA made a similar point in their green workforce transformation report, saying that green skills were increasingly sought “not just in sectors linked to heavy decarbonisation and energy transition”.
“In fact, it appears that the fastest-growing demand for green skills is in sectors such as luxury goods and internet technology,” they said.
“This could indicate that many organisations already recognise the competitive advantages that may result from early adoption of environmentally positive business models.”
Many roles will require people to have a broad awareness of green issues and their importance in the workplace, according to Rehan Haque, the founder and CEO of Metatalent.ai, which works with organisations to provide employees with skills.
“What does sustainability look like in finance, in IT, in sustainability, in renewable energy? That’s the mindset [employees] must have,” he said.
“How we skill and educate our young people today will be integrated into almost everything. We assist learners to make an informed decision. They need to think from a green point of view [about] what value could they add.”
That there will be enough people with the requisite “green skills” — described by Mr Haque as “the knowledge, abilities, values and attitude needed to live in, develop and support a sustainable and resource-efficient society” — is not a given.
“We have not made enough progress, especially when it comes to equipping workers with the green skills they need to meet this growing demand,” LinkedIn’s Global Green Skills Report said.
“Growth in the demand for workers with green skills has outpaced the growth in the supply of green talent.”
The organisation also said the overall number of workers moving into green jobs was “still really low” when compared to what was needed if the world was to limit climate change, so much more investment is seen as necessary.