Any collar you want

When the OECD was mandated to develop a Green Growth Strategy this June, ministers specifically referred to the "green jobs" that such a strategy would support. But what exactly are "green jobs"?

The definition of a green job is squishy. Is someone who works in a plant that manufactures solar panels a "green-collar" worker or a blue-collar worker? What about a Ford worker producing low emission cars? Does a banker who lends for environmental projects wear a green or white collar? Is a job "green" because of its effect on the environment or on growth, or both? Perhaps green jobs require new types of training. But would shifting to a green economy ultimately result in a net gain or a net loss of jobs? So far, no one has come up with satisfactory answers.

One recent analysis, co-authored by Sir Nicholas Stern* and published in Climate Policy, suggests that in the short term, switching to low-carbon technologies will lead to net job creation, because renewable energy sources are more labour-intensive than conventionally produced energy. But the study also suggests that workers laid-off from the "old" energy sector will probably not be able to find work quickly in the new sector, as they will need to upgrade, or maybe change, their skills. Over the medium term, jobs will be created in the construction sector, to retrofit old housing stock for instance, and there will be new markets for carbon traders and windpower repair workers. Long-term, jobs in technological research and innovation will thrive. 

A shift to a green economy will impose fundamental changes in the way we live, and that means in the way we work and train as well. To reinvent that old Ford expression, workers will be able to choose any collar they like, as long as it's green. RJC/MA

*Fankhauser, Samuel, Friedel Sehlleier, and Nicholas Stern (2008), "Climate change, innovation and jobs", in Climate Policy No 8, available at www.climatepolicy.com

 ©OECD Observer No 274, October 2009




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