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Clean energy businesses now employ more people worldwide than oil and gas

In the inaugural edition of its World Energy Employment Report, the International Energy Agency found that clean energy jobs are driving economic development and employing more people globally than coal and oil and gas.

Overall, energy jobs have recovered from the disruptions of Covid-19 pandemic to employ over 65 million people around the world. That's roughly 2% of the global labor force.

Clean energy jobs account for most of that work as the oil and gas sector has yet to fully recover to pre-pandemic levels of hiring.

It's another indicator that the energy shift away from oil and gas is happening (even if it's not happening quickly enough).

With the rebound, clean energy now accounts for more than 50% of new energy deployment. And while two-thirds of those workers are either building projects or manufacturing clean energy technologies.

Unlike in fossil fuels, clean energy construction jobs bring in lower wages (in part because they're far less hazardous), but manufacturing jobs could make up some of the difference. It's why the Biden Administration is keen on unionizing much of the industry to ensure that wage losses from the energy transition are kept to minimum.

Currently there are approximately 7.8 million renewable energy solar and wind construction jobs, which is equivalent to oil and gas. Where the clean energy workforce is really making strides is in vehicle manufacturing for electric vehicles. That's roughly 1.4 million of the 13.6 million auto manufacturing workforce.

The decision to lump vehicle manufacturing in with clean energy jobs, but only count electrification and not weigh -- on balance -- the other vehicle assembly jobs is a bit of a fudge from the IEA, but the numbers are still significant.

And increasingly, mining for rare earth metals and other jobs along the electrification supply chain will create more opportunities for labor to make up for the erosion in oil and gas employment (or so the industry hopes).

Fossil fuels employ almost 32 million globally today and the IEA said that many of. the same skills used in those jobs are pretty directly transferrable to the new energy economy. Some companies are transferring their workers to low-carbon segments internally to retain talent, and allow for flexibility to shift workers between different business segments as needs arise, the IEA said. However, this is not an option everywhere, and ensuring a just transition for affected workers is a growing focus for policy makers in many regions, especially for coal, which has already seen consistent declines since 2015.

No matter what happens energy employment is set to grow, outweighing declines in fossil fuel jobs. The IEA’s Net Zero Emissions by 2050 Scenario estimates that 14 million new clean energy jobs are created by 2030, while another 16 million workers shift to new roles related to clean energy.

It's going to be critical for new energy companies to provide jobs that pay as well as their fossil fuel counterparts to attract workers, including those moving from other parts of the energy sector, the IEA said.

Some fossil fuel companies are retraining workers internally for positions in low-carbon areas to retain talent or to maintain flexibility as needs arise, according to the IEA.

However, this is not an option everywhere, and ensuring a people-centered and just transition for affected workers must remain a focus for policy makers, especially in the coal sector where employment has been declining consistently for several years, the international monitoring organization said.

Unsurprisingly, given its dominance over most of the renewable energy supply chain, the Asia Pacific region has half of the energy jobs in the world (it's also the world's most populous region).

As the IEA notes, rapid energy infrastructure expansion in Asia Pacific is outpacing other regions, and lower-cost labour is enabling the emergence of significant clean energy manufacturing hubs that supply projects worldwide, notably for solar, electric and hybrid vehicles, and batteries. China alone accounts for almost 30% of the global energy workforce.

“Countries around the world are responding to the current crisis by seeking to accelerate the growth of homegrown clean energy industries. The regions that make this move will see huge growth in jobs,” said IEA Executive Director Fatih Birol. “Seizing this opportunity requires skilled workers. Governments, companies, labour representatives and educators must come together to develop the programs and accreditations needed to cultivate this workforce and ensure the jobs created are quality jobs that can attract a diverse workforce.”

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