Green jobs have been on China’s agenda since 2006, when it became one of the first member countries to collaborate with the International Labor Organization (ILO) in conducting research on and formulating measures to create green jobs. Since then, China has prioritized green development, e.g. energy efficiency in industry, transportation, and buildings; development of wind, solar, and other renewable energy sources; creating a resource-saving “circular” economy; and transforming traditional sectors through energy-efficient and environmentally-sound technologies.
The “2006 – 20015 Green Jobs in China” study assessed the green employment potential and the number of jobs that would be lost by 2020. 1.1 million green jobs were identified in the renewable energy sector, but concern was expressed over the ability of this new industry to absorb older and less skilled workers. The study predicted a total of 2.2 million jobs in renewable energy by 2020. Other sectors, such as industry directly relating to environmental protection, forestry and waste management were identified as having green job potential.
China has since become a global leader in renewable energy and, in 2019, accounted for 39% of the world’s total jobs in the sector. The country’s total number of related jobs stood at 4.1 million, with 44% of the global total employment in wind power, i.e. ~510 000 jobs. 15% or 308,000 of all worldwide hydropower jobs are in China. China’s PV industry provides ~ 2.2 million direct and indirect jobs. In solar heating and cooling, China employs 670,000 people and in solid biomass 186,000. In addition, with China’s government’s decision in 2010 to elevate the new energy vehicle (NEV) industry to one of its seven “strategic emerging industries”, a plethora of NEV car makers and battery companies have sprung up in China, providing green job opportunities. A recent ILO report estimated a total of 1.2 million potential jobs in the NEV sector by 2020.
Laws promoting environmental protection were introduced as early as 1979 governing soil, water, forest, grassland, wildlife etc. The 11th Five-Year-Plan (2006 – 2010) called for an integration of environmental protection in industrial production, aiming at reducing emissions, saving resources, and for an overall transition to clean energy. From 2006 onwards the State Council decreed industry restructuring, calling for the closure of old-technology plants in a.o. power generation, construction, paper, etc., while promoting a transition to energy efficient public transport, better waste management, circular economy concepts, pollution control and monitoring etc. A plethora of concomitant laws and programs has been introduced governing labour, including provisions to retrain laid-off workers, strengthen vocational training and provide green fiscal and financial tools to encourage green entrepreneurship.
In 2015, a revised version of the “Dictionary of Occupations in China” included for the first time “green occupation” labels for professions in 17 categories featuring “environmentally friendly, low-carbon and circular” characteristics. It is expected that China’s current focus on promoting innovation and becoming a high-end producer of goods, seeking dominance in 10 strategic industries from electric cars and next-generation telecommunications to advanced robotics and artificial intelligence, will provide further employment opportunities that support green jobs and a clean, low-carbon and high-tech transition.
Activity Rating: *** Right Direction but Could Do More
China has – given the complexities of leading such a vast country through a low-carbon and “green” transition – done relatively well in setting and pursuing the goal of cleaning up its industry, transportation, waste etc.
However, the challenge now will be how to transform the industrial infrastructure from the early days of the PRC. Many factories are located in remote areas, where access to new infrastructure allowing for the development of innovative industries is difficult. Especially the structurally weaker areas such as China’s Northeast, which relies heavily on old industries such as coal mining, coal fired power plants, steel etc. present a challenge. China has set a goal to cut overcapacity in some traditional industries and forecasts estimate workers to be laid off in coal and steel to be ~1.8 million or ~15% of the workforce. Most of those laid-off workers would be around 40-50 years of age and will have difficulties finding re-employment both due to skills as well as mobility reasons.
To alleviate mass lay-offs, China has in recent years established a proactive employment policy framework encompassing (1) labourers becoming self-employed, (2) employers creating more jobs, (3) government providing public service job positions, and (4) enterprises transferring employment by separating principal from auxiliary businesses. Also, the government has repeatedly said that released workers will be absorbed by the service industry. However, some of these policies are difficult to implement in remote, structurally weak areas far removed from potential customers or alternative industries.
The situation is exacerbated when considering that new, more efficient, and cleaner technologies like wind power are highly automated, needing less employees. Therefore, it will be difficult for long-term employees in traditional industries and locations to find new work, even if they received training to re-skill. In addition, whole communities often depend on one industrial employer both for their livelihood and basic infrastructure. Restructuring or closing such factories for more environmental efficiency needs to be done in such a way as to keep the livelihoods of these communities intact.
Message: Please send the following message to the policymaker(s) below.
Dear Minister/ Dear Premier Li,
Leading China through the necessary industrial and labor force transition in order to achieve future innovative and low-carbon development is a daunting task. China has in the past two decades risen to the challenge by promulgating a comprehensive set of policies governing every aspect of this transformation. The results have been impressive.
At the same time, for a true low-carbon transition China will need to phase out its coal reliance and industry, which will affect millions of workers in structurally weak and remote areas that are heavily invested in coal. Workers in these areas will need special assistance beyond reskilling them.
They need to be enabled to create new opportunities where none exist, which requires an entrepreneurial skill set that allows them to create their own businesses. For a true low-carbon future, China needs to reduce coal reliance and we therefore hope that MOHRSS can work with all relevant authorities to help these workers and their communities to transform.
Ministry of Human Resources and Social Security /
(For English) email@example.com
Ministry of Ecology and Environment of the People’s Republic of China
(For English) firstname.lastname@example.org
The State Council, Share your ideas with China’s Premier (in English)
Premier Keqiang Li
This Post was submitted by Climate Scorecard Country Manager: Annette Wiedenbach
ILO; Skills for Greening Jobs in China
ILO, Ministry of Human Resources and Social Security; 中国绿色就业研究
IRENA; Renewable Energy and Jobs – Annual Report
ILO; China – Employment and Environmental Sustainability Fact Sheets 2019 https://www.ilo.org/beijing/information-resources/public-information/factsheets/WCMS_730338/lang–en/index.htm