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Meeting Paris emissions targets would bring more energy jobs globally, but not for Canada: study

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TORONTO — A new study has found that if the world were to meet the targets set out in the Paris Agreement, there would be eight million more jobs globally by 2050.

But in this scenario, researchers say some fossil fuel-dependant economies such as Canada would actually see fewer energy jobs.

The signatories of the Paris Agreement agreed in 2015 to reduce carbon emission in order to keep the rise in global temperatures to “well below” 2 C above pre-industrial levels, ideally limited to 1.5 C.

But many political leaders around the world, including in Canada, have raised concerns over the jobs that would potentially be lost in the fossil fuel sector as a result of decarbonization policies.

The international team of researchers based in Europe and Canada published their findings in the journal One Earth on Friday. They analyzed the job footprints in 50 countries and found that job losses in the fossil fuel industry would be outweighed by the gains in jobs created in clean energy.

Currently, around 18 million people are directly employed in the energy sector, the researchers estimate. Around 70 per cent are employed in fossil fuel industries, 26 per cent are employed in renewable energy and four per cent are employed in nuclear.

Under current trends, the number of energy jobs is expected to increase to 21 million by 2050. Researchers call this the “reference scenario.”

However, if countries were to adequately transition away from fossil fuels in order to meet the Paris targets, researchers project that jobs in the energy sector would grow to 26 million.

In this scenario, 84 per cent of jobs would be in renewables and five per cent would be in nuclear, with only 11 per cent in fossil fuels.

Much of these job gains would come from manufacturing in the solar and wind industries.

“Manufacturing and installation of renewable energy sources could potentially become about one third of the total of these jobs, for which countries can also compete in terms of location,” said study author Johannes Emmerling in a news release.

The Middle East, Southeast Asia, Indonesia and the United States could see the biggest job gains, given that these regions have a high potential for renewable energy and their fossil fuel sectors don’t employ a large number of people.

But countries like Canada that have a significant number of jobs tied to fossil fuel extraction would actually see fewer jobs if the Paris targets were to be met, compared to the reference scenario, the study states.

“Extraction sector jobs are more susceptible to decarbonization, so there needs to be just transition policies in place,” said first author Sandeep Pai in a news release.

Other economies reliant on fossil fuel extraction include Mexico, Australia, South Africa, Nigeria and Angola.

Pai, who recently completed his PhD at the University of British Columbia, says the large number of fossil fuel jobs in these countries also pose a barrier to getting climate policies passed in order to meet the Paris targets.

“In many cases, fossil fuel workers also hold political influence because of their history and high rates of unionization among others, so as we move to low carbon sources, it is important to have a plan in place for the general acceptability of climate policies,” said Pai.

The next step for the research team is to study how the transition away from fossil fuels would affect wages, skill levels and educational requirements for workers.​ 

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