Guest Article #7

Moving Towards Green Jobs, a Green Economy, and a Lower Carbon Society

Only a few weeks ago I was in Mexico to announce that this Latin American country will be the main host for World Environment Day 2009, less than 200 days before the crucial climate convention meeting in Copenhagen.

There are many reasons why Mexico was chosen as the international host for these global celebrations—hosting it under the new United Nations theme ‘UNite to Combat Climate Change'.

It has emerged among a group of countries showing leadership at home and abroad on climate change.

Interesting proposals include one by President Felipe Calderon for a Green Fund—an instrument that might provide fresh sources of funding and technology transfer complimenting those from the Kyoto Protocol's Clean Development Mechanism (CDM) and the Global Environment Facility.

Mexico has a fast growing portfolio of carbon market projects, registered or in the pipeline. Indeed, the county is now second only to Brazil in the region with an accumulated 187 projects by September 2008: this is up from four in 2004.

Last year the country exported close to $3 billion-worth of solar technology to Japan and the United States.

Mexico, a member of the North American Free Trade Agreement, is also a partner in the Western Climate Initiative involving several states and provinces in the United States and Canada. The initiative released its "Draft Design of the Regional Cap-and-Trade Program" in July.

Meanwhile some 1.5 million rural people are now recompensed for managing forests and watersheds under a payment for ecosystem services—a good policy for reversing the rate of loss of biodiversity; poverty alleviation; the achievement of the Millennium Development Goals and climate-proofing or adapting to global warming.

I mention Mexico because in a world riven by turmoil in the financial markets, strong and steady leadership on climate change from both developed and developing economies will be crucial over the coming weeks and months.

With banks collapsing and merging on a seemingly daily basis, it can be all too easy for some to delay action on perhaps the most economically destabilizing prospect in the pipeline: namely climate change.

The fact is that the credit crunch has not meant the climate crunch has magically receded.

Far from it. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change's sobering assessment of 2007 is more valid today than ever before.

And the latest global emissions figures are cause for even greater concern and motivation, not inaction or delay.

It is my conviction that the government of Mexico, and indeed other governments showing leadership such as South Africa, Korea, Norway and members of the European Union, have made the link between climate change and the opportunities for a transition to a resource efficient, low or lower carbon society and one that is more competitive economically in the 21st century.

  • One also more able to ride out the storms and blossom in a world where it is not just credit that is becoming scarce.
  • But economically important natural or nature-based assets – partly as a result of less than optimal management and partly as a result of unchecked climate change.
  • One more able to boost social equity and stability via improved employment prospects too at a moment in history when 1.3 billion working poor —over 40% of the global workforce—still earn less than $2 a day and where 500 million young people will be joining the work force in the next 10 years.

The ability of a greener economy to boost decent work prospects will be paramount to its political and social acceptance over the coming months and years.

Combating climate change will pass its sell by date and remain in the file mark ‘pending' if such action cannot demonstrate wider societal, environmental and economic benefits.

This was one reason why UNEP, in partnership with the International Labour Organization, the international trades unions and the employers' organizations, commissioned and cooperated on the new Green Jobs: Towards Decent Work in a Sustainable Low-Carbon World report.

Over two million people are already employed in renewables, which is more than the oil and gas industry, and over two million could be employed in wind power and six million in solar power by 2030.

The report outlines huge potential for green employment in developed and developing economies in energy efficiency and other areas from recycling to agriculture and construction if the right policies are put in place.

Cutting interest rates is often seen as a way of boosting high street spending and economic activity.

The report notes that boosting the fuel efficiency of automobiles in the United States alone to 35 mpg can boost economic activity in two ways while also cutting greenhouse gas emissions.

Over 20,000 new jobs could arise in areas such as tool and machinery making and consumers could save an estimated $37 billion on reduced fuel bills by 2020, which could be spent in other sectors of the economy.

And what about the fashion for economic stimulus packages—what could $700 billion do in the United States in terms of wind or solar power or indeed research and development into second or third generation biofuels based on wastes, or nascent renewables such as wave power or ocean thermal energy conversion?

The International Energy Agency calculates that to achieve a 100% electrification of sub-Saharan Africa, around $280 billion will need to be spent up to 2030.

Some of the sums found, almost overnight, to rescue banks could transform that electrification into a clean, green one rather than one based on fossil fuels.

The world needs to deal with the immediate financial turmoil but also the growing turmoil presented by climate change.

Dealing with them together would be a measure of maturity and political leadership—leadership that sees crisis as an opportunity and takes and makes decisions that deliver long lasting and fundamental reform rather than short term, small change.