A Just, Inclusive Transition Requires Workforce Readiness and Diversity

In today’s fast changing energy economy, renewables are building a new global workforce. With 12.7 million people employed in the clean energy sector in 2021, the renewable energy industry is becoming a job creation engine, according to IRENA’s new report on the latest global estimates of renewable energy employment.

Published by IRENA in collaboration with the International Labour Organisation (ILO), the ninth edition of the Renewable Energy and Jobs: Annual Review assesses impacts of the ambitious, yet achievable 1.5°C Scenario under which renewable energy jobs would rise from today’s 12.7 million to 38.2 million in 2030. Energy efficiency, electric vehicles, and hydrogen could employ another 74.2 million people by then.

Like in 2020, China was leading again with 42% of the global total renewables jobs last year, followed by the EU and Brazil with 10% each, and the USA and India with 7% each. Africa’s role is still limited, but the report points out that there are growing job opportunities in decentralised renewables, especially in support of local commerce, agriculture and other economic activities.

Presented during the Global Clean Energy Action Forum organised by the Clean Energy Ministerial in Pittsburgh, USA this week, the report indicates that most of the renewable energy job growth last year has come from solar and liquid biofuels with 4.3 million and 2.4 million jobs respectively. Wind power generated 1.3 million jobs worldwide, with Europe accounting for 40% of the world’s wind manufacturing output.

During the session titled ‘Job creation and gender balance in the energy transition’, IRENA’s expert, Michael Renner, said, “Jobs are vital for raising acceptance of the renewable energy within countries while helping to accelerate the energy transition, but the quality of the jobs must also be considered carefully.” He also pointed out how policies are crucial to power the energy transition that can realise wider socio-economic benefits.

While it’s clear that renewables are opening a whole arena of new jobs, the shift comes with its own set of challenges. With the clean energy transition picking up pace, skills development of the workforce is at centre stage. Other speakers in the session highlighted the importance of preparing the workforce for a renewable-based future. Debra Rowe, President of the US Partnership for Education for Sustainable Development talked about accelerating efforts to focus on workforce education.

A just transition will require new skills and build local supply chains that will result in more inclusion and diversity. The Annual Review 2022 says the availability of skilled labour is one potential bottleneck and calls for anticipatory educational and skill-building strategies. The report also highlights the importance of decent jobs for all, ensuring that jobs pay a living wage, workplaces are safe, and rights at work are respected.

Read Renewable Energy and Jobs: Annual Review 2022.