Transitioning to a Green Economy Can Bolster Economic Downturn
The transformation to a greener economy could generate 15 to 60 million additional jobs globally over the next two decades and lift tens of millions of workers out of poverty, according to a new report led by the Green Jobs Initiative.
The study, Working towards sustainable development: Opportunities for decent work and social inclusion in a green economy, says that these gains will depend on whether the right set of policies are put in place.
The current development model has proven to be inefficient and unsustainable, not only for the environment, but for economies and societies as well," said ILO Director-General Juan Somavia. “We urgently need to move to a sustainable development path with a coherent set of policies with people and the planet at the centre."
“The forthcoming “Rio+20” United Nations conference will be a crucial moment to make sure decent work and social inclusion are integral parts of any future development strategy," he added.
Achim Steiner, executive director of the UN Environment Programme (UNEP), said: “This report comes on the eve of World Environment Day on 5 June under the theme Green Economy: Does it Include You?”
“The findings underline that it can include millions more people in terms of overcoming poverty and delivering improved livelihoods for this and future generations. It is a positive message of opportunity in a troubled world of challenges that we are relaying to capital cities across the globe as leaders prepare and plan for the Rio+20 Summit,” he added.
The report—published almost four years after the first study by the Green Jobs Initiative—looks at the impact that the greening of the economy can have on employment, incomes and sustainable development in general.
At least half of the global workforce—the equivalent of 1.5 billion people—will be affected by the transition to a greener economy. While changes will be felt throughout the economy, eight key sectors are expected to play a central role and be mostly affected: agriculture, forestry, fishing, energy, resource-intensive manufacturing, recycling, building and transport.
Tens of millions of jobs have already been created by this transformation. For example the renewable energy sector now employs close to 5 million workers, more than doubling the number of jobs from 2006-2010. Energy efficiency is another important source of green jobs, particularly in the construction industry, the sector hardest hit by the economic crisis.
In the U.S., three million people are employed in environmental goods and services. In Spain, there are now more than half a-million jobs in this sector.
Net gains in employment in the order of 0.5—2 percent of total employment are possible. In emerging economies and developing countries, the gains are likely to be higher than in industrialized countries, because the former can leapfrog to green technology rather than replace obsolete resource-intensive infrastructure. Brazil has already created just under three million jobs, accounting for some 7 per cent of all formal employment
No gains without the right policies
These good results have one thing in common: the recognition that environmental and socio-economic challenges need to be addressed in a comprehensive and complementary manner.
- First, this means promoting and implementing sustainable production processes at the level of the business itself, especially among small-and-medium-sized enterprises in the key sectors mentioned above.
- Second, an extension of social protection, income support and skills training measures is key to ensuring that workers are in a position to take advantage of these new opportunities.
- Third, international labour standards and workers‘ rights can provide a legal and institutional framework, as well as practical guidance, for work in a greener and sustainable economy, especially when it comes to job quality and occupational safety and health.
- Finally, effective social dialogue involving employers and trade unions is central to the governance of sustainable development.
“Environmental sustainability is not a job killer, as it is sometimes claimed. On the contrary, if properly managed, it can lead to more and better jobs, poverty reduction and social inclusion," said the ILO head.
Other key findings of the report:
- In the EU alone, 14.6 million direct and indirect jobs exist in the protection of biodiversity and rehabilitation of natural resources and forests.
- The targeted international investments of US$ 30 billion/year into reduced deforestation and degradation of forests could sustain up to 8 million additional full-time workers in developing countries.
- Experiences from Colombia, Brazil and other countries show that the formalization and organisation of some 15-20 million informal waste pickers could have significant economic, social and environmental benefits.
- The building renovation programme for energy efficiency in Germany is an example of the possible win-win-win outcomes: it has mobilized € 100 billion in investments; it is reducing energy bills, avoiding emissions and creating around 300,000 direct jobs per year.
- Overuse of natural resources has already caused large losses, including over a million jobs for forest workers, mainly in Asia, because of unsustainable forest management practices.
- The fisheries sectoris likely to face a major, albeit temporary transition challenge for workers due to overfishing. Temporary reductions of catch may be needed in many fisheries to allow declining stocks to recover. Of particular concern is that 95 percent of the 45 million workers employed in fishing are often poor artisanal coastal fishermen in developing countries.
- In much of Asia, Africa, Latin America and parts of Europe, the proportion of expenditure on energy by poor households is three times – and can be as much as 20 times – that of richer households.
- The National Rural Employment Guarantee Act in India and the social housing and ‘green grants’ programmes in Brazil are good examples of social protection policies that contribute to sustainable development.
- Women could be among the main beneficiaries of a greener, more socially inclusive economy, with better access to opportunities to jobs, for example in renewable energy, higher incomes, in particular in agriculture, formalization of employment, notably among the 15-20 million recycling workers and many burdens reduced among other from access to clean energy, enhanced food security, energy and water efficient social housing.
- A mere 8-12 percent of the workforce in industrialized countries, for example, is employed in the 10-15 industries generating 70-80 percent of CO2 emissions. Only a fraction of these is likely to lose their jobs if policies are adopted to green existing enterprises and to promote employment.
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Kevin T. Smiley
When hurricanes and other extreme storms unleash downpours like Tropical Storm Beta has been doing in the South, the floodwater doesn't always stay within the government's flood risk zones.
New research suggests that nearly twice as many properties are at risk from a 100-year flood today than the Federal Emergency Management Agency's flood maps indicate.
Flooding Outside the Zones<p>About <a href="https://furmancenter.org/files/Floodplain_PopulationBrief_12DEC2017.pdf" target="_blank">15 million</a> Americans live in FEMA's current 100-year flood zones. The designation warns them that their properties face a 1% risk of flooding in any given year. They must obtain flood insurance if they want a federally ensured loan – insurance that helps them recover from flooding.</p><p>In Greater Houston, however, <a href="https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1539-6924.2012.01840.x" target="_blank">47% of claims</a> made to FEMA across three decades before Hurricane Harvey were outside of the 100-year flood zones. Harris County, recognizing that FEMA flood maps don't capture the full risk, now <a href="https://www.hcfcd.org/floodinsurance" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">recommends that every household</a> in Houston and the rest of the county have flood insurance.</p><p>New risk models point to a similar conclusion: Flood risk in these areas outstrips expectations in the current FEMA flood maps.</p><p>One of those models, from the <a href="https://firststreet.org/flood-lab/research/2020-national-flood-risk-assessment-highlights/" target="_blank">First Street Foundation</a>, estimates that the number of properties at risk in a 100-year storm is 1.7 times higher than the FEMA maps suggest. Other <a href="https://doi.org/10.1088/1748-9326/aaac65" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">researchers</a> find an even higher margin, with 2.6 to 3.1 times more people exposed to serious flooding in a 100-year storm than FEMA estimates.</p>
What FEMA’s Flood Maps Miss<p>Understanding why areas outside the 100-year flood zones are flooding more often than the FEMA maps suggest involves larger social and environmental issues. Three reasons stand out.</p><p>First, some places rely on relatively old FEMA maps that don't account for recent urbanization.</p><p>Urbanization matters because impervious surfaces – think pavement and buildings – are not effective sponges like natural landscapes can be. Moreover, the process for updating floodplain maps is locally variable and can take years to complete. Famously, New York City was updating its maps when Hurricane Sandy hit in 2012 but hadn't finished, meaning flood maps in effect <a href="https://projects.propublica.org/nyc-flood/" target="_blank">were from 1983</a>. FEMA is required to assess whether updates are needed every five years, but the <a href="https://www.fema.gov/cis/nation.html" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">majority of maps</a> <a href="https://www.oig.dhs.gov/sites/default/files/assets/2017/OIG-17-110-Sep17.pdf" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">are older</a>.</p><p>Second, binary thinking can lead people to an underaccounting of risk, and that can mean communities fail to take steps that could protect a neighborhood from flooding. The logic goes: if I'm not in the 100-year floodplain, then I'm not at risk. Risk perception <a href="https://doi.org/10.1088/1748-9326/ab195a" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">research</a> backs this up. FEMA-delineated flood zones are the major factor shaping flood mitigation behaviors.</p><p>Third, the era of climate change scuttles conventional assumptions.</p><p>As the planet warms, extreme storms are becoming <a href="https://nca2018.globalchange.gov/" target="_blank">more common and severe</a>. If greenhouse gas emissions continue to increase at a high rate, computer models suggest that the chances of a severe storm dropping 20 inches of rain on Texas in any given year will increase from about 1% at the end of the last century to 18% at the end of this one, a chance of <a href="https://doi.org/10.1073/pnas.1716222114" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">once every 5.5 years</a>. So far, <a href="https://www.rstreet.org/wp-content/uploads/2020/02/195.pdf" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">FEMA hasn't taken into account the impact climate change is having</a> on extreme weather and sea level rise.</p>
Racial Disparities in Flooding Outside the Zones<p>So, who is at risk?</p><p>Years of research and evidence from storms have highlighted social inequalities in areas with a high risk of flooding. But most local governments have less understanding of the social and demographic composition of communities that experience flood impacts outside of flood zones.</p><p>In analyzing the damage from Hurricane Harvey in the Houston area, I found that <a href="https://doi.org/10.1088/1748-9326/aba0fe" target="_blank">Black and Hispanic residents disproportionately experienced flooding</a> in areas beyond FEMA's 100-year flood zones.</p><p>With the majority of flooding from Hurricane Harvey occurring outside of 100-year flood zones, this meant that the overall impact of Harvey was racially unequal too.</p><p>Research into where flooding occurs in Baltimore, Chicago and Phoenix points to some of the potential causes. <a href="https://www.nap.edu/read/25381/chapter/4#16" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">In Baltimore and Chicago</a>, for example, aging storm and sewer infrastructure, poor construction and insufficient efforts to mitigate flooding are part of the flooding problem in some predominantly Black neighborhoods.</p>
What Can Be Done About It<p>Better accounting for those three reasons could substantively improve risk assessments and help cities prioritize infrastructure improvements and flood mitigation projects in these at-risk neighborhoods.</p><p>For example, First Street Foundation's risk maps account for <a href="https://firststreet.org/flood-lab/research/flood-model-methodology_overview/" target="_blank">climate change</a> and present <a href="https://floodfactor.com/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">ratings</a> on a scale from 1 to 10. FEMA, which works with communities to update flood maps, is <a href="https://www.fema.gov/media-library-data/1521054297905-ca85d066dddb84c975b165db653c9049/TMAC_2017_Annual_Report_Final508(v8)_03-12-2018.pdf" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">exploring rating systems</a>. And the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine recently <a href="https://www.nationalacademies.org/news/2019/03/new-report-calls-for-different-approaches-to-predict-and-understand-urban-flooding" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">called for a new generation of flood maps</a> that takes climate change into account.</p><p>Including recent urbanization in those assessments will matter too, especially in fast-growing cities like Houston, where <a href="https://authors.elsevier.com/a/1boBRyDvMFW6W" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">386 new square miles</a> of impervious surfaces were created in the last 20 years. That's greater than the land area of New York City. New construction in one area can also <a href="https://scalawagmagazine.org/2018/01/city-in-a-swamp-as-houston-booms-its-flood-problems-are-only-getting-worse/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">impact older neighborhoods downhill</a> during a flood, as some Houston communities discovered in Hurricane Harvey.</p><p>Improving risk assessments is needed not just to better prepare communities for major flood events, but also to prevent racial inequalities – in housing and beyond – from <a href="https://www.npr.org/2019/03/05/688786177/how-federal-disaster-money-favors-the-rich" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">growing</a> after the unequal impacts of disasters.</p>
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