While the number of workers in the energy sector has generally decreased, jobs in renewables increased globally by 5% last year, which set a record in renewable installation and investment. There are more than 8.1 million jobs in renewables, mainly in solar photovoltaic, liquid biofuels and wind energy.
Why renewable energy jobs are growing
The main reason, according to the latest Renewables 2016 Global Status Report by REN21, is that renewables are economically competitive with respect to fossil fuels in various markets.
Favourable regulatory frameworks are one of the main drivers of job growth. Although the commitments made by the countries prior to COP21 were insufficient to ensure the Earth's temperature would not increase by 2 ºC, they did drive a transition towards a low carbon economy, which helped implement renewable-friendly policies. At the beginning of 2016, 173 countries had set clean energy goals and 146 countries had already implemented support policies.
Other factors that also fostered renewable jobs growth, to the detriment of fossil fuels, were the increased access to finance, concerns about energy security and a growing demand for modern energy services in emerging and developing economies. Last year, developing countries outpaced developed countries in total investments in renewables for the first time (see Bloomberg New Energy).
Benefits of green jobs
Jobs in the renewables sector are considered "green jobs" because they contribute to preserving and restoring the environment. Compared to generating energy from fossil fuels (oil, natural gas and coal), renewables reduce emissions of greenhouse gases that cause global warming, minimise waste and pollution, help protect ecosystems and contribute to the adaptation to climate change.
According to Adnan Z. Amin, Director-General of the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA), "doubling the share of renewable energy in the global energy mix by 2030 — enough to meet global climate and development targets — would result in more than 24 million jobs worldwide".
The path to decarbonising the economy needs a stable regulatory framework to attract low-carbon investment. Green jobs growth is a positive sign, but we need more ambitious emission reduction plans for the short and medium term.