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Antoine Godin AFD
The environmental crisis and the societal changes it implies are threatening to change the job market, but to what extent? Antoine Godin, economist with Agence Française de Développement, offers some ideas.
What impact will the environmental crisis have on employment around the world?

The decline in biodiversity is causing a decrease in the services nature provides to us—crop pollination, climate regulation, water purification—and that will inevitably result in tension on the job market. According to the International Labour Organization (ILO), 1.2 billion of today’s jobs are highly dependent on ecosystem services. So, that many workers could be affected. At the same time, this does not take into account strategies for adaptation that could actually create jobs. As a result, it’s hard to state with certainty whether the total impact will be positive or negative; it will depend greatly on the region and sector.

Climate change, meanwhile, will have a major impact on our working conditions. As temperatures and humidity increase in tropical regions, it will very probably not be possible to keep doing as much work in the affected countries. In fact, people may not even be able to keep living there: a recent study made headlines by pointing out the risk that deadly heat waves could affect 48% to 74% of the world’s population by the end of the century.

The environmental crisis will also exacerbate certain inequalities, in particular gender inequality: with the decline in ecosystem services and quality of life, more women may be forced to stay at home to care for a sick child, or go further than before to fetch water. Some of these women will move even further away from employment.

How will the environmental transition toward lower-carbon societies affect the job market?

It will very likely have a positive effect on the job market. There should be more jobs created in the agriculture, energy, sustainable construction, and circular economy sectors than jobs destroyed in the carbon-based energy industry. The ILO estimates the net gain in jobs at 18 million by 2030.

We are likely to see certain jobs shift in location as consumers base their choices more on short supply chains. Still, there will be differences between regions. The Americas, Asia, Europe, and Australia will probably escape unscathed. For Africa, things will be more complicated.

How can countries act to ensure that the environmental transition benefits all workers?

Some countries will lose jobs. Others will gain jobs. There will be migration between these countries, and also within different sectors of the economy. This will produce tension. We must begin by improving the dignity of labor: quality of life at work, salaries, social protections, etc. Failing this, it will be difficult to support workers moving from one sector to another.

The environment and labor are inextricably linked. Rather than acting separately in each area, we have everything to gain from protecting the environment and workers at the same time. Reducing our greenhouse gas emissions is just as essential as preserving social cohesion.

In Ethiopia, for example, the government has created many public jobs to protect the environment, which has generated a new rise in the availability of ecosystem services and improved agricultural productivity. Everyone wins!

Further reading: 

Bernard Thibault (ILO): “Multinationals Must Be More Transparent On the Way They Protect the Social Rights of Workers”

5 Challenges for Employment in Developing Countries

Cameroon: Construction That Changes a City and Lives