Renewable energy jobs reach 12 million globally in 2020, report finds

China accounted for 39 per cent of renewable energy jobs in 2020, followed by Brazil, India and the US, according to Irena and ILO

Renewable energy jobs worldwide reached 12 million last year, up from 11.5 million in 2019, according to a report.

While solar and wind jobs continued to lead global employment growth in the renewable energy sector, accounting for 4 million and 1.25 million jobs, respectively, liquid biofuels employment decreased to 2.4 million as demand for transport fuels fell during the Covid-19 pandemic last year, according to the report by the International Renewable Energy Agency in collaboration with the International Labour Organisation.

“Renewable energy’s ability to create jobs and meet climate goals is beyond doubt. With COP26 in front of us, governments must raise their ambition to reach net zero,” Francesco La Camera, Irena director-general, said.

“The only path forward is to increase investments in a just and inclusive transition, reaping the full socio-economic benefits along the way.”

Efforts to limit global warming to 1.5° Celsius by 2050 could create about 122 million energy-related jobs, more than double the current 58 million in the sector, Irena said in a June report. Renewable energy alone will account for more than a third of all energy jobs, employing 43 million people globally, the Abu Dhabi-based agency said.

The Paris Agreement signed in 2015 mandates countries to cap the rise in global temperatures to 1.5° C or 2° C above pre-industrial levels.

The falling cost of renewables, particularly wind and solar in recent years, also provides a solid business case for clean energy to replace fossil fuels as the main sources of power generation, said Mr La Camera.

Countries around the world are taking a pledge to reach net-zero emissions by the middle of the century to mitigate climate change. The UAE is the latest country to make the commitment to carbon neutrality and is the first in the Middle East and North Africa and only Gulf oil-exporting nation to do so.

China commanded a 39 per cent share of renewable energy jobs worldwide in 2020, followed by Brazil, India, the US and members of the European Union, according to the Irena-ILO report.

Many other countries are also creating jobs in renewables. Among them are: Vietnam and Malaysia, key solar PV exporters; Indonesia and Colombia, with large agricultural supply chains for biofuels; and Mexico and Russia, where wind power is growing, Irena said.

Renewable energy’s ability to create jobs and meet climate goals is beyond doubt
Francesco La Camera, Irena director-general

In Sub-Saharan Africa, solar jobs are expanding in countries like Nigeria, Togo and South Africa, the report added.

Energy transition technologies such as batteries for electric vehicles and green hydrogen can become major sources of jobs. Electrolysers and other green hydrogen infrastructure can create about 2 million jobs globally from 2030 to 2050, the report added.

“The potential for renewable energy to generate decent work is a clear indication that we do not have to choose between environmental sustainability on the one hand, and employment creation on the other. The two can go hand-in-hand,” said Guy Ryder, director-general of ILO.

Recognising that women suffered more from the pandemic because they tend to work in sectors more vulnerable to economic shocks, the Irena-ILO report highlighted the importance of a just transition and decent jobs for all, ensuring that jobs pay a living wage, workplaces are safe and rights at work are respected.

A just transition requires a workforce that is diverse – with equal chances for women and men, and with career paths open to youth, minorities and marginalised groups, the report added.

Fulfilling the potential of renewable energy jobs will depend on ambitious policies to drive the energy transition in coming decades, Irena said.

More jobs will be gained by the energy transition than lost, the report found. An ILO global sustainability scenario to 2030 estimates that the 24 million to 25 million new jobs will far surpass losses of between six and seven million jobs.

Some five million of the workers who lose their jobs will be able to find new jobs in the same occupation in another industry.

Irena also forecast the renewable energy sector could employ 38 million people by 2030 and 43 million by 2050. Solar would account for 19.9 million jobs, followed by bio-energy (13.7 million), wind (5.5 million) and hydropower (3.7 million), according to the report.

The disruption to cross-border supplies, caused by Covid-19 restrictions, highlighted the important role of domestic value chains. Strengthening them will facilitate local job creation and income generation, the report suggested.

“This will require industrial policies to form viable supply chains; education and training strategies to create a skilled workforce; active labour market measures to provide adequate employment services; retraining and recertification together with social protection to assist workers and communities dependent on fossil fuels; and public investment strategies to support regional economic development and diversification,” Irena added.

Updated: October 22nd 2021, 6:01 AM