Going greening means a skills revolution, writes Padma Iyer | March 07, 2009
HEINZ Schandl has a job to do: convince decision-makers that employment will not be affected by a green revolution.
The CSIRO senior scientist, who last year co-wrote an employment modelling report titled Growing the Green Collar Economy, is keen to allay fears about the future of work ifa carbon pollution reduction scheme is adopted. As many jobs will be created as will be lost, the economic modelling in his report shows.
“Well-designed policies can substantially decouple economic growth from environmental pressure, so that living standards continue to increase at current rates (avoiding blockages that might otherwise occur), while our national environmental footprint reduces over time,” says the CSIRO report to the Dusseldorp Skills Forum, an independent, not-for-profit organisation.
“Achieving a rapid transition to sustainability would have little or no impact on national employment, with projected increases in employment of 2.5 (million) to 3.3 million jobs over the next two decades.”
The progression to a more carbon-neutral economy will result in some jobs being lost, but there will be proportionate employment gains elsewhere, Schandl says.
“It might be that the aluminium smelter might close down, but at the same time you will have new employment,” he says. “If you introduce carbon trading, there will be considerable jobs growth in those sectors that are very environment-intensive, like transport, construction, manufacturing and mining.”
Schandl says the CSIRO report addresses fears about a trade-off between efforts to address climate change and employment.
There is a notion, particularly among some business leaders, that climate change action spells bad news for jobs growth, that one will advance at the expense of the other. This is not the case, Schandl says.
The Business Council of Australia is very clear that growth takes precedence, particularly when the economic indicators are pointing downward.
“The drafting of legislation and the development of an implementation framework for the Government’s emissions trading scheme, that is, the Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme, is occurring at a time of a sudden and severe downturn in the global economy, which in turn has brought significant uncertainty about Australia’s short-term economic outlook,” last month’s BCA submission to the Centre for International Economics Review of the Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme white paper says.
“In light of this, the finalisation of the scheme details and the implementation, especially in the early years, will require a tailored approach that is aligned to global and national economic conditions and designed to ensure Australia’s industry and employment opportunities are not adversely (affected).
“This does not mean Australia should walk away from the ongoing international negotiations, nor does it mean work on the details of the CPRS should be stalled. What it does mean is making sure the introduction of the CPRS does not lead to further economic, environmental and social uncertainty.”
The underlying fear of losing what we have — an aspiration for economic growth in the traditional sense — for what is an imaginary world that exists only in modelling scenarios is clearly a reflection of a widely held view.
The transition from model to reality involves considerable work as well as political will. We are talking about a skills revolution, says Schandl. It’s a revolution “that will fundamentally change how you are doing things, and it will change how we get used to doing things in major sectors of the economy where in the first place we would not assume to find the same skills”.
In his view, the change will be at systemic and individual levels, at macro and micro stages, and in established and new sectors.
“When you think about green skills, you think about people who operate wind farms or new energy or alternative energy kind of businesses, but actually green skills will occur in very traditional sectors,” he says.
“The best example is the construction sector. This will require people in the workplace at the construction site to do things very differently in order to have more energy-efficient buildings. That will have an effect on (town) planners, councils, on building standards and on the supply chain.”
How we think about transport also will change. “The whole idea of transport and mobility is organised in a very individualised way,” Schandl says. “Everyone drives his own car. We need to think of cities (that) have a very different urban mix and are much more walkable than our cities are today. Public transport is the preferred option.”
Skills change in turn will make demands on training needs.
“Restructuring of the energy system to decentralised and renewable systems will require know-how and skills not yet available,” the CSIRO report says.
The future, in other words, is looking green as soon as the policy decision in that direction is made. But decision-making is not the metier of a scientist, Schandl says.
“As a scientist, you need to provide information, which is impartial. And that’s where it stands now.”