The coronavirus pandemic has been the biggest disruption to the global labor force in generations. It’s also exacerbated inequality. Global unemployment was equivalent to 127 million full-time jobs in the second quarter of 2021. The number of people who do have jobs but are living in poverty has increased — undoing five years of progress. While in some countries the number of jobs is returning to pre-pandemic levels, most of the world is still in the throes of an unemployment and underemployment crisis.
Meanwhile, 2021’s heat waves, fires, droughts, hurricanes and floods have brought the impacts of climate change to our doorstep. The latest Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report warns of severe future shocks without urgent action.
Thankfully, it’s possible to address both the unemployment and climate crises at once.
Putting climate-friendly and unsustainable investments head-to-head
If you were a policymaker and had $1 million to invest in expanding or strengthening your energy system, would you choose clean energy or fossil fuels? Considering the effects of climate change, investing in clean energy is the obvious decision.
But what if your goal was simply to create as many jobs as possible? Fortunately, the answer is the same.
Dollar-for-dollar, clean energy and other green investments generally create more jobs in the near term than unsustainable investments, according to a new analysis of studies from around the world published by WRI, the International Trade Union Confederation and the New Climate Economy.
- Investing in solar photovoltaic energy creates an average of 1.5 times as many jobs as investing the same amount of money in fossil fuels.
- Ecosystem restoration creates 3.7 times as many jobs as oil and gas production per dollar.
- Building efficiency retrofits create 2.8 times as many jobs as fossil fuels per dollar.
- Mass transit creates 1.4 times as many jobs as road construction per dollar.
Other green investments are also strong job creators compared to traditional alternatives, including wind energy, electric grid upgrades, industrial efficiency, walking and cycling infrastructure and electric vehicle charging infrastructure.
This analysis is based on our review of a dozen studies that included apples-to-apples comparisons of job creation. For some investment types, such as solar and wind energy, there were data points from many countries, including Brazil, China, Indonesia, Germany, South Africa, South Korea and the United States. But for some other investment types there was only one study each — such as walking infrastructure, cycling infrastructure and ecosystem restoration, where estimates were available from only the United States.
The findings so far are promising, but more research needs to be done, particularly for low-income countries and for nature-based climate solutions.