The renewable energy transition will bring many tangible benefits beyond the immediate job of tackling climate change, from cleaner air in cities to new industrial opportunities. For ordinary people, though, one of the most tangible benefits will be the massive new employment opportunities: the UK Energy Research Centre estimates that renewable energy will create three times more jobs per million pounds invested than the fossil fuels industry.
In fact, the promised boom in green jobs has already started: some 12.7 million people were employed in renewable energy worldwide in 2021, an increase of 700,000 on the previous year and nearly double the figure for a decade ago. That figure will climb further as the world’s major economies invest in net zero, with 874GW of solar and wind power set to be built in China during its 2021–25 five-year plan, 50GW of offshore wind to be built in the UK, as well as the new renewables investment that will be ushered in by the US Inflation Reduction Act. Some 257GW of renewable electricity was installed in 2021, shows data from the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA).
The biggest market for renewables jobs is China, where 5,368,000 (0.7% of the total workforce) were employed in renewable energy in 2021, followed by Brazil with 1,272,000 (1.3% of the workforce). China dominates the solar sector with 63% of global jobs in the photovoltaic panel industry, while Brazil is a leader in biofuels, which provides two-thirds of the country’s renewables jobs. The EU (1,242,000 jobs, or 0.7%), the US (923,000 jobs, 0.6%) and India (863,000 jobs, 0.2%) have the next biggest renewables labour forces, according to data from IRENA.
If the world is to reach net-zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050 and limit global warming to 1.5°C, then we can expect some 38.2 million jobs in renewable energy by 2030, says IRENA. It is not just in renewables where there will be massive employment opportunities: the energy efficiency, electric vehicle, power system management and clean hydrogen sectors could collectively employ a further 74.2 million people by 2030.
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In the UK, 1.2 million direct jobs and 1.5 million indirect jobs in renewables should be created by 2050, if £7bn ($7.92bn) is invested every year between now and then to retrofit all of the country’s buildings, according to new analysis from the progressive think tank IPPR.
However, the IPPR authors add that this job creation is “not guaranteed”. A whole host of training programmes and skills academies, as well as improved job standards and skills accreditation systems, needs to be introduced for the country – and others – to maximise the employment opportunities of the energy transition.