Since the world economy was brought to its knees by the COVID-19 pandemic, economists and world leaders have been busy trying to think of ways to mitigate the damage while simultaneously taking climate action.
For climate campaigners and members of the public alike the answer is obvious. Activists and citizens have been encouraging policy makers to see this as an opportunity to invest in sustainable industries that will provide work opportunities people need, and help save the planet.
It’s an idea that has had some success, with many governments at least talking about “building back greener” in some way. From Chile’s pledge for at least 30% of its COVID-19 recovery investment to go towards sustainable development, to Nigeria’s plan to scrap subsidies for its oil industry.
The UK, too, has opted to earmark £134 million in investment for businesses to develop clean technologies and create green jobs. So it's a growing sector that is set to get more investment.
That the sustainability sector is growing is brilliant news for anyone who wants to see the world achieve its net zero carbon targets and keep global warming to no more than 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels.
“Green jobs” — for example, roles that contribute to the transition to a low-carbon economy — have been on the increase for a while. In the US, for example, jobs in the clean energy sector reportedly grew every year during the five years to 2020. There were 10 times more jobs in the US green economy than in the fossil fuel industry by 2019, a University College London study found.
The International Renewable Energy Agency’s (IRENA) annual report, published in September 2020, said that the number of jobs in the renewables sector had reached 11.5 million globally.
In England, the Local Government Association has predicted that by 2030 there could be as many as 694,000 direct jobs in in the low-carbon and renewable energy economy — up from 185,000 in 2018.
So, we decided to take a look at some of the interesting new and developing roles we might be applying for in the race-to-net-zero future.
Urban farming, sometimes referred to as “vertical farming”, is a trend borne out of the world’s need to feed more city-dwellers using less land and water. It involves growing crops on rooftops and in small patches of arable land found within cities — and it requires skilled practitioners to make a success of it.
In the US, urban farming has grown by 30% in the last 30 years and it can help improve food security in areas of cities known as “food deserts”, according to research from Miguel Altieri, professor of agroecology at the University of California, Berkeley.
This type of city-based agriculture comes with many green benefits, such as energy conservation, increased biodiversity in the urban area, nutrient cycling, and micro-climate control, its advocates say.
Green designer or creative
There is a huge role for the creative industries to play in transforming our economies. Whether that’s as a sustainable fashion designer making clothes out of recycled materials or pioneering vegan leather, or as an artist who collects thousands of pieces of plastic waste to create art.
Creatives are in a unique position to push the boundaries of what’s possible and inspire change in their respective industries.
You could work in the field of eco-architecture for example, designing buildings that have as minimal an impact as possible on the environment. That could mean, instead of clearing land to create new buildings, working in tandem with the habitats that already exist, using sustainable materials, and the most efficient energy usage. Think buildings nestled in trees, or with grass on the roof to keep it warm, or a house filled with reclaimed items as furniture.
Engineers and technicians for the renewables sector are very much needed if the world is going to transition away from a reliance on fossil fuels. Think of all the people needed to design and build solar panels and wind turbines to generate the electricity we use.
Jobs in solar energy are leading the way in terms of growth, according to the IRENA report, with 3.8 million jobs in the sector worldwide, a third of the total renewable energy jobs they identified.
A less common form of renewable energy is tidal power, but it is being developed. Being a windy island, the government in the UK is particularly keen, and has said power generated by waves could one day provide 20% of the country’s energy needs.
In 2011 the world’s first commercial-scale marine device to produce energy for the national grid from waves was set up off Scotland’s Orkney Islands, one of 30 devices that have been tested there by the European Marine Energy Centre.
Another device, installed in 2017, now typically produces 7% of Orkney’s electricity, according to the BBC. So, “wave producer” sounds like a pretty cool role to potentially one day add to the CV.
Not everyone has the technical chops to be an engineer, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t roles for people with business nous and project management skills to contribute to helping businesses go green.
Sustainability consultants are hired for their expertize on how to lower a company’s carbon footprint. They can do an environmental impact assessment and guide an organization through cutting carbon emissions, waste, and water usage among other things.
Or they can be involved in bigger projects — such as advising the government on how to ensure new transport infrastructure or a new urban regeneration project is environmentally sound, for example, which will be vital in the years to come.
Green home construction worker
Retrofitting buildings that already exist to make them more energy efficient and sustainable, and ensuring new buildings meet more stringent low carbon standards are two areas of work that require lots more skilled workers.
The building sector has the largest potential for significantly reducing carbon emissions compared to other major emitting sectors, according to the World Green Building Council, based on a report from the UN’s Environment Program in 2009. Emissions savings from green buildings could be as much as 84 gigatonnes of carbon dioxide by 2040, the UN’s Environment Program estimates.
However there is still so much work to do — with emissions from the global building sector being the highest ever recorded in 2019.
To foster the turnaround there is expected to be a jobs boom in green construction, with the International Labour Organization predicting 6.5 million sustainable construction jobs by 2030, the second fastest growing sector next to green energy.
A healthy 8% growth in the job market for environmental scientists is expected between 2020 to 2029, according to The Balance career specialists.
It’s not hard to see why — the impact of climate change is already being felt with increasing extreme weather events and hottest ever years on record.
Scientists who can assess, predict, and document the damage caused by warming temperatures will be vital in the coming decades to keep the world informed.