Green Jobs Find International Support

solar panel jobSitting in a warm Capitol Hill office building last week, a panel of green-collar job activists attempted to rally support among a room of sleepy Congressional staffers. At the end of the briefing, Van Jones, a civil-rights lawyer-turned-green jobs champion, delivered the message that jolted many audience members out of their afternoon haze. "We are about to enter stagflation," Jones said. "That means people get voted out of office."

Highlighting the connections between lagging employment and the need to address climate change has become a favorite talking point in the U.S. environmental and labor rights communities. It's the common denominator that can uplift the working poor, provide incentive to the corporate rich, and still address the growing threat of catastrophic climate change, they say. Especially as economic markets stumble in the United States and across the world, many activists say that promoting green jobs is the only way to reach an effective international climate agreement.

According to some estimates, including those of former World Bank-economist Sir Nicholas Stern, a "business-as-usual" approach to climate change would damage the global economy more than the adoption of hard-hitting policies to reduce emissions. Plus, such policies would stimulate green jobs, "well-paid, career track jobs that contribute directly to preserving or enhancing environmental quality," according to the Apollo Alliance, a U.S. coalition of business, labor, environmental, and community leaders. More specifically, green jobs are positions in the emerging renewable energy, energy efficiency, and other "green economy" industries.

Although activists have long discussed the potential of green jobs, political leaders have begun to take notice only in the past year or so. U.S. presidential candidates Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton, and European Commission president José Manuel Barroso, have all promised policies that would create "millions" of green jobs. In December, the United States passed the world's first law that provides funding for green jobs, specifically targeted to citizens who are traditionally economically depressed, such as the unemployed, formerly incarcerated, and at-risk youth.

Green jobs are attracting attention among international negotiators as well. This week, labor officials from the Group of Eight industrialized nations met in Niigata, Japan, in preparation for July's G8 summit, which is themed around climate change. This week's meeting was the first time G8 leaders linked labor issues and environmental policies. In a joint statement, they declared that ignoring the need for green-job stimulation "would entail catastrophic consequences for human society, the global economy, and prospects for sustainable jobs."

The trade union advisory committee of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), a body representing industrialized nations, responded to the G8 address by calling for greater international collaboration. "Employment transition and ‘green job' promotion should become an integral part of intergovernmental agencies' action," the committee said in a prepared statement. Already, the United Nations Environment Programme, International Trade Union Confederation, and the International Labor Organization are collaborating on an unprecedented green jobs initiative.

In the past few months, several U.S. non-governmental organizations have also joined forces in the interest of green jobs. Van Jones' organization, Green For All, launched in September. In January, two-dozen environmental and minority groups formed a unified voice to lobby the federal government for a "Clean Energy Corps." And in April, the Blue-Green Alliance - a hybrid of the United Steelworkers and the Sierra Club - created a new campaign working in conjunction with the Natural Resources Defense Council.

"There's no shortage of advocacy, even from government itself. It's not just citizen groups," said Andrea Peart, a national representative of the Canadian Labour Congress, which launched its own green jobs report this week.

Without green jobs advocacy, hope for a climate change agreement will be lost, says Blue-Green Alliance executive director David Foster. "It's critical that the American people see economic opportunity coming out of global warming solutions," he said. "If they don't, it will be extremely difficult to pass effective global warming legislation."

Exactly how many jobs a green economic overhaul would create, or whether many of these jobs are any more lucrative than traditional income sources, remains widely disputed. But many proponents agree that the drive for green jobs has generated a collective enthusiasm that has long been lacking in the climate change movement.

"We want to see a green economy," Jones told the Congressional aides at the recent Washington gathering. "But a green economy that doesn't have any throw away resources, doesn't have any throw away species. It also doesn't have any throw away children, doesn't have any throw away neighborhoods. We want to include everybody."

Ben Block is a staff writer with the Worldwatch Institute's online news service, Eye on Earth. He can be reached at bblock@worldwatch.org.

Stay tuned! Worldwatch senior researcher Michael Renner, in collaboration with Cornell University researchers, will release the upcoming report, Green Jobs: Toward Sustainable Work in a Low-Carbon World, later this fall. The report is a joint effort of the United Nations Environment Programme, International Trade Union Confederation, and International Labour Organization.