Towards green employment – Michael Briguglio

 Michael Briguglio

Earlier this week, I led a Green party delegation for a meeting with the new leadership of Union Ħaddiema Magħqudin. It is a pleasure meeting with trade unions and, in the case of the UĦM, we have shared common positions on various issues in the past years. Two important examples are the support of Malta’s EU membership and the call for having sustainable national budgets with strong social and environmental priorities. This can serve as a framework for increased collaboration in the coming years. In this regard, the American example of the Blue-Green Alliance comes to mind, where Greens, unions, employers and NGOs work together for the creation of green jobs.
Green jobs in small states were recently discussed in a seminar organised by AD’s foundation Ceratonia, in collaboration with the Green European Foundation. Various academics presented papers on a myriad of issues related to the subject and these shall be included in a forthcoming publication.

Together with fellow sociologists Maria Brown and Diana Aquilina, I presented a paper during the seminar, which analysed the assessment of Maltese civil society stakeholders with regard to sustainable energy policy in general and green jobs in particular.

Before delving into the findings of our research, it is pertinent to define the term “green jobs”. The most comprehensive definition is that of the United Nations Environment Programme, namely, “work in agricultural, manufacturing, research and development (R&D), administrative and service activities that contribute substantially to preserving or restoring environmental quality”.

In Malta, a 2007 study by the Employment and Training Corporation analysed employment figures in a restricted manner, namely in the “environmental goods and services industry” (such as waste management) and concluded that this growing sector employs about three per cent of the labour force and contributes about two per cent to gross domestic product.

More recently, the draft National Environment Policy speaks on the generation of green jobs. Without providing specific details, it calls for the increase of such jobs by 50 per cent by 2015, for the preparation of a green jobs strategy (and a corresponding training strategy) by 2012 and for the setting up of an incubator for green industries by 2014.

Given that our research focused on green jobs in the sustainable energy sector, it is important to note that, according to Eurostat, Malta has the highest energy dependency rate in the EU and one of the highest rates of tonnes of oil equivalent per inhabitant in the EU. It also occupies the last position in the EU with regard to share of renewable energy within final energy consumption. Hence, there are huge opportunities for growth in sustainable energy.

Jobs in this sector can include employment in all renewable energy industries and increased energy-efficiency in buildings. In turn, this can help fight climate change, increase energy security and cut dependency on dirty and unsustainable energy such as oil. The current economic and environmental crises are surely food for thought in this regard. No populist discourse on lower utility bills can supersede the economic fact that the price of oil, gas and other similar types of energy will keep rising. The basic fact is that global supply is limited while demand is growing, especially due to the expansion of economies such as China’s and India’s.

As main promoters of green jobs, the European Greens have developed the policy framework of the Green New Deal.

A main goal in this regard is the shift towards sustainable energy production until 100 per cent use of renewable energy is reached in 2050. The European Greens believe that, during the process, a minimum of 20 per cent renewable energy is to be reached within the EU by 2020 while CO2 emissions are to be reduced by 40 per cent in the same period, compared to 1990 levels. Concurrently, a European energy super grid should be created.

The EU has opted for a less ambitious 20 per cent reduction of CO2 emissions and 20 per cent renewable energy. Consequently, Malta requires to produce 10 per cent of energy from clean renewable sources by 2020. It was also obliged to limit CO2 emissions increase by five per cent by 2020.

The research conducted by Ms Brown, Ms Aquilina and myself reveals that civil society representatives are highly conscious of the potential of green jobs. Indeed, respondents from major trade unions and environmental NGOs acknowledged that a shift towards sustainable-energy use has a potential of generating such jobs and that benefits outweigh negative repercussions such as possible job losses in other sectors. Yet, respondents were also generally concerned of uneven situations within the green job market, ranging from skill mismatches to precarious employment situations.

Hence, civil society representatives are calling for sustainable development through holistic and inclusive policy through consultation and decentralisation and for a mix of macro and micro policies in the field.

Examples that come to mind include increased prioritisation or renewable energy in the budgets of the EU and of Malta but also increased input from local councils and civil society.

For example, AD’s councillor in Attard, Ralph Cassar, is crucial in the greening of the local council. Recently, for example, the council introduced LED-signs for pedestrian crossings, which were produced in Malta. When I was local councillor in Sliema I had also successfully convinced other councillors of the need to optimise energy efficiency and to use solar energy in the council premises.

Awareness on the green job potential exists within civil society in Malta. In itself, this augurs well for the myriad of challenges, opportunities, antagonisms and decisions that Maltese society is likely to encounter in relation to sustainable energy use.

Mr Briguglio, a sociologist, is chairman and spokesman for economy and finance, Alternattiva Demokratika – the Green party.