Will a Greener Economy Kill Jobs or Create Them?

The shift to renewables will create millions of jobs, but what about those currently working in fossil fuels? It's all about managing the transition.


A common argument against switching to a greener economy is the possibility that many jobs — particularly those in the fossil fuel sector — will be lost in the process. But according to a new international study, meeting the climate change targets set in the Paris Agreement to limit global warming by 2050 will actually kick off a net increase in the number of jobs available in the energy sector through the rapid expansion of renewable energy.

Steps can be taken now to ease the transition for workers who will be affected, ensuring a fair and equitable move to a more sustainable future.

The study was led by Sandeep Pai, a recent PhD graduate in Resources, Environment, and Sustainability at the University of British Columbia, and published in One Earth.

How will the switch to a greener economy affect job prospects?

One of the key goals of the United Nations Climate Change Conference in October 2021 is to accelerate the phase-out of coal and other energy sectors that are harmful to the environment. But how will this change the job market, and are there ways we can ease the transition for workers who might be affected? These are the questions Pai and colleagues set out to answer with their study.

To do this, they created a dataset of jobs from various energy sectors in 50 different countries, including many which have large fossil fuel-based economies (such as China, India and Canada). They gathered these data from government reports.

According to their dataset, about 18 million people worldwide are currently employed in energy sectors, with 12.6 million of those jobs in fossil fuel industries.

The team then created models for different climate action policies which have been proposed to meet the Paris Agreement by 2050, as well as models where no actions are taken. They used these models to determine which jobs are expected to be lost, and which new jobs are expected to become available, over the next thirty years.

On average, their models showed that jobs in the energy sector are expected to increase to 26 million in scenarios where global warming levels are kept below 2 degrees Celsius. This is 8 million more jobs than are available in the energy sectors today, with the majority of new jobs coming from solar and wind industries.

Of course, reaching these climate goals will also mean limiting our dependence on nonrenewable resources — which will result in some jobs being lost. The team found that 80% of these losses will be in industries that deal with fossil fuel extraction; however, the jobs gained in other sectors will more than balance these losses.

The transition to a greener economy needs to be equitable

To make sure that our switch to a greener economy is equitable for those currently employed by fossil fuel industries, the authors recommend that governments prioritize fair transition policies. For example, governments could provide free skills training to help employees transition to new sectors.

“Extraction sector jobs are more susceptible to decarbonization, so there needs to be just transition policies in place,” Pai said in a press release.

“[A]s we move to low carbon sources, it is important to have a plan in place for the general acceptability of climate policies.”

Many Canadian communities rely on fossil fuel industries, but recent polling has shown that Canadians want the government to take action on climate change — and they want the transition to a greener economy to be equitable.

You can make a difference by speaking up about climate change and urging your elected representatives to prioritize transitions that are fair for all.

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Emily Deibert is a PhD student in the Department of Astronomy & Astrophysics at the University of Toronto with a passion for science outreach and communication. She earned her HBSc (Astronomy, English, and Mathematics) at the University of Toronto. She is excited about turning scientific research into stories and sharing these stories with the public.