The number of people working in the renewable energy sector worldwide grew to 12 million last year, up from 11.5 million in 2019, according to a new report by the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA) in collaboration with the International Labour Organization (ILO).
The eighth edition of “Renewable Energy and Jobs: Annual Review 2021” confirms that COVID-19 caused delays and supply chain disruptions, with impacts on jobs varying by country, and among parts of the value chain.
Solar and wind jobs continued to lead global employment growth in the sector, accounting for 4 million and 1.25 million jobs, respectively. Employment in liquid biofuels declined, however, as demand for transport fuels fell. While off-grid solar lighting sales also suffered, companies were able to limit job losses.
China accounted for 39% of renewable energy jobs worldwide in 2020, followed by Brazil, India, the United States and European Union member states.
Many other countries are also creating jobs in the renewables sector, among them Vietnam and Malaysia, which have become key solar PV exporters; Indonesia and Colombia, which have large agricultural supply chains for biofuels; and Mexico and Russia, where wind power is growing. In Sub-Saharan Africa, solar jobs are expanding in diverse countries like Nigeria, Togo and South Africa.
“Renewable energy’s ability to create jobs and meet climate goals is beyond doubt,” said IRENA Director-General Francesco la Camera. “With COP26 in front of us, governments must raise their ambition to reach net zero. The only path forward is to increase investments in a just and inclusive transition, reaping the full socioeconomic benefits along the way.”
ILO Director-General Guy Ryder added that the potential for renewables to generate decent work was “a clear indication that we do not have to choose between environmental sustainability on the one hand, and employment creation on the other. The two can go hand-in-hand.”
The report stresses that that more jobs will be gained by the energy transition than lost and cites an ILO global sustainability scenario to 2030 estimating that some 25 million new jobs will far surpass losses of up to 7 million jobs. In addition, some 5 million of the workers who lose their jobs will be able to find new jobs in the same occupation in another industry, it adds. By 2050, IRENA’s World Energy Transition Outlook forecasts 43 million renewable energy sector employees.
The report also highlights the importance of domestic value chains in view of the disruptions to cross-border supplies caused by COVID-19 restrictions. “Strengthening them will facilitate local job creation and income generation, by leveraging existing and new economic activities,” IRENA states.
To that end, the report calls for industrial policies to form viable supply chains; education and training strategies to create a skilled workforce; active labour market measures to provide adequate employment services; retraining and recertification along with social protection to assist workers and communities dependent on fossil fuels; and public investment strategies to support regional economic development and diversification.
International Labour Standards and collective bargaining arrangements are crucial for a just transition that provides employment for all people, it adds.
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