Switch to greener economy could generate 12,000 jobs, new research says

Growth in sectors such as waste recycling, repair services likely to have a particularly positive impact in Israel, according to paper prepared for annual Eli Hurvitz confab

Sue Surkes is The Times of Israel's environment reporter

Installing solar panels on a roof. (Elenathewise, iStock at Getty Images)
Installing solar panels on a roof. (Elenathewise, iStock at Getty Images)

A potential transition to a circular economy, in which one person’s or company’s waste is another’s resource, could generate 12,000 additional jobs in Israel, according to research presented Wednesday at the annual Eli Hurvitz economic conference in Jerusalem, organized by the Israel Democracy Institute.

A background paper written for a session on green employment reviewed international studies that suggest jobs in a circular economy will increase in sectors such as waste recycling, repair services, renewable energy, food, agriculture and some areas of manufacturing. The first two are likely to have a particularly positive impact on Israel.

But employment will decline in fossil fuel-dependent industries and in sectors of manufacturing that produce new items or process raw materials or natural resources such as wood, non-metallic minerals, chemicals, plastics and metals, the document says.

Jobs will also likely dip in the construction industry, according to the report, as a result of new labor-saving building methods such as modular construction, although rising demand for workers who can make existing buildings more energy-efficient could compensate for those losses.

The paper estimated the transition would still be a net gain for the labor market, creating an estimated 12,000 more new positions than the number of jobs that will disappear.

For the transition to be managed properly, the government needs a coherent policy for skills development, the researchers said, citing an International Labour Organization study which said some change in skills would be needed for all occupations.

Furthermore, a single body needs to be established at the government level to coordinate the implementation of the policy between all ministries and all stakeholders within and outside of the government.

A bulldozer lifts waste at the Greenet recycling plant in the Atarot industrial zone, north of Jerusalem, June 16, 2015. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Central to the report is the need for a “just transition” to ensure that weaker populations are not harmed by moves toward a greener economy.

The researchers propose a social security policy that will help vulnerable people whose earning capacity might be hit. They propose tools such as early retirement and bridging pensions for older workers, temporary grants to supplement unemployment benefits, retraining funds and incentives for employers to hire people who have been fired from their jobs, and the creation of incentives to help new and existing industries switch to green technologies.

Illustrative image of robot assistant technology, industry 4.0, artificial intelligence (Jiraroj Praditcharoenkul; iStock by Getty Images)

Also critical to a smooth transition, according to the paper, is introducing a mechanism to inform and involve the public, quickly mapping where the barriers and opportunities are, identifying affected populations in advance, and planning solutions together with them.

“Just transition processes bring to the table a wide variety of actors with different, and sometimes conflicting, interests (employers, workers, and workers’ organizations, central government, local government, environmental bodies),” the document says.

“In addition, the uncertainty regarding their consequences, and the timetables in which they will materialize, instinctively lead to resistance and public distrust. To build a social consensus for the move and reduce objections in advance, many countries choose to establish platforms for public participation, already in the first stages of the process,” it adds.

Some countries are failing to adequately involve their citizens in the transition, the report points out.

Demonstrators wearing “yellow vests” during protests near the Champs Elysees in Paris on December 8, 2018. (Bertrand Guay/AFP)

This has led to events such as the 2018 yellow vest protests in France against the government’s attempt to tax fuel consumption for environmental reasons, and the farmers’ protests that have greeted recent Dutch government moves to drastically reduce nitrogen emissions, partly by reducing livestock and intensive farming and moving towards more sustainable approaches.

The report says that most of the new green occupations will need new scientific knowledge and high-level skills, with existing occupations also requiring some tweaking.

The document was produced by Natan Zussman, who directs the Center for Finance and Development at the Graduate Institute of International and Development Studies in Geneva, Switzerland, Dafna Aviram-Nitzan, director of the Israel Democracy Institute’s Center for Governance and the Economy, Shay Biran, a partner at Synergy Consulting and a researcher at the IDI, and IDI researchers Itamar Popliker and Maya Wasserman.

Shay Biran told the conference that elsewhere in the world, governments are funding the transition to a low-carbon economy with the proceeds of a carbon tax, which Israel does not yet have. Once the transition is understood, the private sector steps in too, he said.

Daphna Aviram-Nitzan, Director of the Center for Governance and the Economy at the Israel Democracy Institute. (Courtesy)

Daphna Aviram-Nitzan said that no preparations were being made for a greener workforce in Israel yet.

Eitan Parnas, CEO of the Association of Green Energy Companies in Israel, said the solar energy companies his association represented were in crisis and were laying off dozens of workers. The electricity grid was overloaded and could not cope with additional electrical input, while facilities to store solar power so that it could be released when the grid had room were not yet widely available.

Israel, he warned, would pay a high price for falling behind other developed countries which were going through “tectonic changes” to transition to low carbon economies.

On Thursday, the International Energy Agency predicted that worldwide additions of renewable power capacity would increase by a third this year thanks to policy momentum, higher fossil fuel prices and concerns about energy security, with solar and wind leading the way.

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