During these times of urgency for a greener economy, in addition to the global employment crisis derived from SARS-CoV-2, we must keep in mind the future of jobs, which is key to ensuring the just transition we all need. Green jobs, understood as decent jobs that contribute to preserving or restoring the environment (ILO, 2016), must be encouraged by governments and, especially, the private sector if we are serious about meeting goals regarding a cleaner future. However, it is increasingly controversial to advocate for green jobs. It seems to be a matter of choosing between what is right for the environment and what is right for humanity. In reality, green jobs are highly beneficial for both the environment and society as a whole.
When we speak about green jobs we are talking about sustainability, but we are also referring to social well-being at work and this is commonly overseen. To be considered green, a job must meet high standards that are required to enhance life conditions of workers. Employees with green jobs must have their voice heard at work, equality must be ensured, everyone must receive a fair income for what they do and the conditions at work must be safe and dignifying. It is imperative to push the social agenda together with the environmental to be able to move forward without leaving anyone behind.
Even though a shift toward green jobs raises worries among some people about the loss of current fossil-fuel jobs, it should not be seen as a threat that jeopardizes employment right now. Green jobs are not only going to be created from scratch in emerging green sectors such as renewable energies and energy efficiency, but will also be the future of most of the jobs in the carbon-based energy sector that has an enormous opportunity to reinforce sustainability. We may take advantage of cleaner energies and their employment potential if we implement planning that allows a gradual transition to the green future we dream of, by promoting capacity in the energy sector for future and current employees. Renewable energies must be encouraged through a healthy balance that allows a natural inclination toward a green future in the sector.
Public policies are fundamental to promoting the adjustment needed to move from regular jobs to green jobs, by empowering people to realize they are capable of creating value for the environment and building cohesive and resilient societies, not only as part of a political agenda but, most importantly, as an ethical imperative and a responsibility toward the planet and humanity. Public policy may be the key tool that helps policymakers achieve some of the Sustainable Development Goals that they are subscribed to, specifically Goal 8: “promote sustained, inclusive and sustainable economic growth, full and productive employment and decent work for all,” and Goal 13: “take urgent action to combat climate change and its impact.” (ECLAC, 2019).
Both the government and the private sector must work hand in hand to create the right space for green jobs to exist and be reinforced. The government is capable of enabling the implementation of these policies, which would certainly result in the promotion of greener products, services and infrastructure that will directly translate into an increased demand for labor across multiple green sectors, while also spurring technological innovation. In addition, governments can ensure the protection of workers’ rights in enterprises. On the other side, the private sector may push compliance aligned to the global environmental agenda, rethinking the way they manufacture goods, provide services and manage industries in order to organically shift into a new generation of jobs that are beneficial for employees while being just what our world needs right now.
Moving to a greener economy creates new space to invest in technologies and jobs that are better aligned with this vision. We must be prepared for this shift when it comes, and if I may be so bold, it is already here. New skills are also needed to fulfill these jobs. It is crucial for education to introduce new generations to a conscious mindset that allows them to transition to a greener economy. This would bring enormous advantages for employment in general, both directly and indirectly through supply chains. Let us embrace the new skills and conditions needed to promote these kinds of jobs, which will surely lead us closer to where we dream to be.