Since the world economy was brought to its knees by the COVID-19 pandemic, economists and world leaders have been busy thinking of ways to mitigate the damage while simultaneously taking climate action.
For climate campaigners and members of the public alike, the answer is obvious. Activists and citizens have been encouraging policymakers to see this as an opportunity to invest in sustainable industries that provide work opportunities people need and help save the planet.
It’s an idea that has had some success, with many governments at least talking about “building back greener” somehow.
Urban farming sometimes referred to as “vertical farming”, is a trend borne out of the world’s need to feed more city-dwellers using less land and water. It involves growing crops on rooftops and in small patches of arable land found within cities — and it requires skilled practitioners to make a success of it.
In the US, urban farming has grown by 30% in the last 30 years. It can help improve food security in areas of cities known as “food deserts”, according to research from Miguel Altieri, professor of agroecology at the University of California, Berkeley.
Its advocates say this type of city-based agriculture comes with many green benefits, such as energy conservation, increased biodiversity in the urban area, nutrient cycling, and micro-climate control.
There is a huge role for the creative industries to play in transforming our economies, whether as a sustainable fashion designer making clothes out of recycled materials or pioneering vegan leather or as an artist who collects thousands of pieces of plastic waste to create art.
Creatives are uniquely positioned to push the boundaries of what’s possible and inspire change in their respective industries.
You could work in the field of eco-architecture, for example, designing buildings that have as minimal an impact as possible on the environment. Instead of clearing land to create new buildings, that could mean working in tandem with the habitats that already exist, using sustainable materials and the most efficient energy usage. Think buildings nestled in trees, grass on the roof to keep it warm, or a house filled with reclaimed items as furniture.
Engineers and technicians for the renewables sector are very much needed if the world is going to transition away from a reliance on fossil fuels. Think of all the people needed to design and build solar panels and wind turbines to generate the electricity we use.
According to the IRENA report, jobs in solar energy are leading the way in terms of growth, with 3.8 million jobs in the sector worldwide, a third of the total renewable energy jobs they identified.
A less common form of renewable energy is tidal power, but it is being developed. Being a windy island, the government in the UK is particularly keen and has said power generated by waves could one day provide 20% of the country’s energy needs.
In 2011 the world’s first commercial-scale marine device to produce energy for the national grid from waves was set up off Scotland’s Orkney Islands, one of 30 devices that have been tested there by the European Marine Energy Centre.
According to the BBC another device, installed in 2017, typically produces 7% of Orkney’s electricity. So, “wave producer” sounds like a pretty cool role to potentially add to the CV one day.
Not everyone has the technical chops to be an engineer, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t roles for people with business nous and project management skills to contribute to helping businesses go green.
Sustainability consultants are hired for their expertise on how to lower a company’s carbon footprint. They can do an environmental impact assessment and guide an organization through cutting carbon emissions, waste, and water usage, among other things.
Or they can be involved in bigger projects — such as advising the government on how to ensure new transport infrastructure or a new urban regeneration project is environmentally sound, for example, which will be vital in the years to come.
Retrofitting buildings that already exist to make them more energy-efficient and sustainable and ensuring new buildings meet more stringent low carbon standards are two areas of work requiring many more skilled workers.
According to the World Green Building Council, the building sector has the largest potential for significantly reducing carbon emissions compared to other major emitting sectors, based on a report from the UN’s Environment Program in 2009. Emissions savings from green buildings could be as much as 84 gigatonnes of carbon dioxide by 2040, the UN’s Environment Program estimates.
However, there is still so much work to do — with emissions from the global building sector being the highest ever recorded in 2019.
There is expected to be a jobs boom in green construction to foster the turnaround. The International Labour Organization predicts 6.5 million sustainable construction jobs by 2030, the second-fastest-growing sector next to green energy.
According to The Balance career specialists, a healthy 8% growth in the job market for environmental scientists is expected between 2020 to 2029.
It’s not hard to see why — the impact of climate change is already being felt with increasing extreme weather events and hottest ever years on record.
Scientists who can assess, predict and document the damage caused by warming temperatures will be vital to keep the world informed in the coming decades.