Job cloud with a silver lining

In an attempt to quantify the impact that government's green economy targets will have on South Africa's crippling unemployment figures, the IDC partnered with the Development Bank of Southern Africa and economic research group Trade and Investment Policy Strategies to produce the Green Job Report.

"The green economy is complex, extremely diverse, relatively new and evolving fast in many of its -segments, particularly in an economy such as South Africa's," the report's authors write. "The analysis reveals the potential of an unfolding green economy to lead to the creation of approximately 98 000 new direct jobs, on average, in the short term, almost 255 000 in the medium term and around 462 000 employment opportunities in the formal economy in the long term."

Natural progression
The research indicates that jobs associated with natural resource management, such as biodiversity conservation, ecosystem restoration, and soil and land management, show the greatest potential to create employment. These activities are expected to account for  around 45% of the jobs in the short term and almost 50% in the long term.

"However, the contribution made by a progressively expanding green energy generation segment increases from 14% of the total in the short term, or just over 13 500 jobs, to more than 28% in the long term, by which time some 130 000 employment opportunities are, on average, expected to be associated with this type of activity."

New direct employment opportunities in energy and resource efficiency activities will provide around 31 500 jobs (32% of the total) in the short term, and grow to 68 000 although the share of the total falls to just under 15% in the long term.

Emissions and pollution mitigation activities are expected to produce an average of 8 400 new direct jobs in the short term, and will grow to around 32 000 in the long term.

The research team elected to restrict its deliberations to the fields of energy generation, energy and resource efficiency, emission and pollution mitigation and natural resource management. It also considered only the direct jobs that could be created in the formal economy and ignored any multiplier effects.

The energy generation sector's contribution to green job creation is expected to grow over time, particularly over the  span of development phases from construction through to commissioning.

The report points out, however, that the largest gains are likely to come from operations and maintenance activities, particularly those in natural resource management initiatives. In the longer term, operations and maintenance employment linked to renewable energy generation plants are also expected to be substantial.

The natural resource management activities may be perceived to be on the periphery of the green economy, yet still play a critical role in preserving the country's abundant natural capital. These activities are seen primarily in the expansion and improvement of the "Working for" and public works programmes, specifically maintenance jobs, mainly located in rural and relatively poor areas.

Energy and resource efficiency initiatives are expected to deliver relatively lower job creation potential in the long term, because they contribute to the sustainability of resources.

"Their anticipated employment contributions start earlier, however, particularly through very high job creation, in relative terms, associated with the roll-out of bus rapid transport systems in several urban areas of the country. Employment gains are also expected to emanate from the roll-out of solar water heaters, especially in the medium and long term, with other green building activities likely to result in significant job creation in the long term," the report states.

Critical jobs
By the same token, the researchers expect job creation around emissions and pollution mitigation to be lower than that from green building activities, but note that this sector is critical from environmental and societal perspectives.

Activities such as recycling are expected to deliver considerable contributions in the medium and long term, while the development of the electric vehicle and lithium-ion battery industries will contribute job growth in the longer run.

Knock-on effects are expected in allied industries, particularly due to the localisation requirements of many of the green projects being developed. Manufacturing operations supplying equipment, parts and components are also expected to see improvements in competitiveness over time.

"Employment gains in manufacturing are also expected to be relatively more stable than construction activities, since the sector should continue exhibiting growth potential as new and replacement components are produced, as additional markets are penetrated and as new green technologies are introduced.

"The green economy could be an extremely important trigger and lever for enhancing a country's growth potential and redirecting its development trajectory in the 21st century. A burgeoning green economy will reflect a clear expansion of productive capacity and service delivery across many existing areas of economic activity, and the introduction of numerous new activities in the primary, secondary and tertiary sectors," the report predicts.

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