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Green construction jobs: the path to economic recovery

16 July 2020

David Thorpe, founder-director, of The One Planet Centre says boosting the green construction jobs market will help drive economic recovery following Covid-19. Examples include labour-intensive retrofit of energy-efficiency measures in buildings.

Green construction jobs: the path to economic recovery
A post-Covid-19 drive to retrofit buildings with renewable energy systems will help to revive the global economy

The Covid-19 pandemic has caused a sudden and severe global recession. The countries that recovered fastest from the 2008 global financial crisis invested in sectors where job creation was double the rate of other countries for the same amount of fiscal stimulus – and many of these jobs related to the green economy.

Green infrastructures

South Korea, which showed positive growth early on in 2009-10, attributed this to investing in sustainable forms of transport and green infrastructure, such as increasing the subsidy on solar rooftops to up to 50% cent of their cost. South Korea and Ethiopia are among the countries planning to repeat this approach now. Ethiopia is planning a green economic recovery with resilience and digitisation as themes, according to Helen Mountford programme director for the World Resources Institute (WRI)’s new climate economy project (WRI, 2020).

The World Economic Forum (2020) is amongst those saying that stimulus packages should not prop up failing fossil fuel projects that utilise outdated economic models and past-century technologies.

China takes first steps

China was the first country to be hit by the Covid-19 pandemic and its focus now is on shifting to economic recovery. So far it is working: "We are looking to increase investment in new infrastructure such as ultra-high-voltage grid connection to facilitate renewable energy, intercity transport and electric vehicle charging stations, 5G, artificial intelligence and the industrial internet," said Li Fang (WRI, 2020), chief representative of WRI China.

"New investment should bring long-term benefits. We are learning from the past when, after 2008, recovery carbon emissions increased faster than ever and we don’t want this to happen again." Li, who was previously assistant secretary general of the China Council for International Cooperation on Environment and Development, says China is looking at five work streams for the recovery: food, water and energy; urban climate adaptation; the circular economy; new transport infrastructure; and energy storage.

USA looks set to follow

Dan Lashof (WRI, 2020), director of the US branch of the WRI, is campaigning for renewable energy and grid upgrades and reviving wind and solar power to be part of the post-pandemic recovery package as this worked last time around. "The sectors used to employ 350,000 people and were fast growing. The pre-existing tax credits can be used again. The grid can be upgraded in a smart way, and electric cars and their charging infrastructure, and transit buses can be backed, lowering operating costs. This would put thousands of electricians back to work.

"Additionally, upgrading buildings with energy efficiency and climate resilience would employ a huge number, " added Lashof. "Installing weatherisation for low income households, and retro-fitting hospitals and schools to lower their costs with more efficient equipment would also create tens of thousands of jobs. Planting trees would create 150,000 jobs, targeting agricultural land. 5 million trees would contribute significantly to the global target of 1 trillion trees planted."

Climate relevant bailouts

Manish Bapna (WRI, 2020), WRI’s executive vice president, who previously was at the World Bank, sums up by saying, "Climate is highly relevant to many of the physical bailouts that governments have made lately and will make. Conditions should be put on these. Monetary policy must be made climate relevant. We need the world to come together."

This article is based on the authors’ briefing article in the latest issue (173 CE3) of the ICE Civil Engineering journal.

  • David Thorpe, Founder-Director, The One Planet Centre