The conservation NGO's estimates show that renewable energy, green transport and energy-efficient goods and services employ at least 3.4 million people in Europe. This compares favourably with 2.8 million jobs in mining, electricity, gas, cement, iron, steel and other polluting industries, it reads.
Renewable energies employ 400,000 people, but the potential for growth is significant, the study points out. Although around 70% of renewables technology rests in the hands of European companies, only a small number of countries, with Germany and Spain in the lead, account for the bulk of jobs in Europe.
The largest share of green jobs, around 2.1 million, is in sustainable transport. The auto industry employs some 150,000 of the two million, and is involved in producing smaller cars that emit less than 120 grams of CO2 per kilometre, the WWF underlines, noting that despite the financial crisis, the industry is still adding production lines.
More difficult to estimate is the number of jobs in energy efficiency-related activities, but the WWF gives a conservative figure of over 900,000. It argues that this sector is critical due to its multiplier effect, as the money saved in energy can be used in other, more labour-intensive parts of the economy.
WWF stressed that climate policies will not threaten jobs in traditional polluting industries, as structural changes including automation and mergers account for most of the job losses. But it argued that the transition should be managed properly by putting in place policies for retraining and social protection to safeguard individuals who lose out in the process.
Insufficient green stimulus
WWF argues that the economic crisis has made it even more crucial to implement the EU's energy and climate legislation agreed in December (see EurActiv LinksDossier) to create new, green jobs in the transition to a decarbonised economy. Nevertheless, European economic stimulus packages have not been "nearly green enough," and the window is closing on what might be a once-in-a-generation opportunity, it claims.
While almost 64% of the EU's economic recovery plan is green, the proportion is just below 10% when combined with member-state funds, according to a recent study by HSBC (EurActiv 08/04/09). WWF thus concluded that it is the member states that are dragging down the EU's green investment.
A similar trend in green job growth is visible in the United States, according to a study from the Pew Charitable Trusts published last week (10 June).
In the period 1998-2007, green jobs grew by 9.1% to 777,000 in the US, much faster than overall jobs, the report shows. The low-carbon economy is still in its infancy as this only amounts to about half a percentage point, but it is "poised to expand significantly" as both private and public funding begins to flow, the Pew report argues.
It pointed out that clean-technology sectors are weathering the crisis better than others. Although their share of venture capital investment was down 48% in the first quarter of 2009, they fared much better compared to an economy-wide drop of 61%.
EU regulation to boost the transition
Despite the EU's leadership in green technology innovation, the US has been far more successful at attracting venture capital to put products to market (EurActiv 30/03/09). The EU's climate legislation attempts to create a framework for overcoming hurdles to investment.
"Our study aims to give policymakers political backing to make the change to a decarbonised society," said Jason Anderson, head of European climate and energy policy at WWF, pointing to the economic benefits of strict climate policies.
Anderson singled out the current recast of the Energy Performance of Buildings Directive, which he said should include a binding target for zero-carbon buildings. In its first-reading position, the Parliament spelled out that all buildings should produce as much renewable energy on-site as they consume by 2019 (EurActiv 24/04/09), but many member states consider this to be unrealistic (EurActiv 15/06/09).
Italy alone wastes 17% of the total energy Europe loses from buildings every year, WWF pointed out. If Swedish building standards were applied across the continent, the EU could cut its energy losses by half, it added.