(Image by: Wayne National Forest)

Electricians, plumbers, technicians and engineers – these are the people who will make it happen, who will make the shift from fossil fuels to renewable energies. The list of professions encompasses all sectors when we consider the wider transition to a global green economy. But what policies are in place to ensure workers possess the right knowledge and the expertise for green economy jobs?

Two of the key issues under discussion at the 2010 United Nations Climate Change Conference in Cancún and analysed in the Climatico debriefing on the conference are capacity building and technology transfer. Bound up in these issues is the challenge of providing the education and training necessary to foster the skilled workforce that will help combat climate change.

Over the past few years, numerous studies, articles and reports have highlighted the need to develop skills across all sectors to make the transition to a global green economy. Some have focused specifically on the skills required for climate change mitigation and adaptation. Whether looking at the international, national or industry levels, there is widespread agreement that skills shortages exist across the board, in both developing and developed countries. Conferences, workshops and other events have been organised to discuss gaps and share ideas for solutions. However, the activity in this area seems to be largely on the higher plains of theoretical analysis and policy discussion. What measures are being taken to fill skills gaps in practice?

Take the example of the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) report ‘Towards a Green Economy, Pathways to Sustainable Development and Poverty Eradication’ released at the end of February. The authors of the synthesis report, lead by Pavan Sukhdev, recognise the expertise deficit throughout the global economy. One example they give is of the shortage of labour in Germany’s renewable energy industry, be it among engineers, maintenance staff or site managers. They then emphasise the need for international, public, private and civil society organisations to provide technical and financial assistance to developing countries for national capacity building and training activities. Without this support, the transition to a global green economy will be far from fair and equitable.

Another example is the recent conference held in Edinburgh, the 14th conference on The Latest Technologies in Renewable Energy – Heating and Cooling Applications, organised by the European Energy Centre (EEC), TERRE Policy Centre and UNEP, and attended by academic and industry experts. Keynote speaker Rajendra Shende said ‘there is not enough time to wait for new policy as a driver for taking action against climate change’. Rather, local grass roots initiatives are the way to go.

The organisers of the conference are not waiting, but providing practical solutions to the skills shortages. The ECC, supported by UNEP, the European Commission and academic partners, specialises in training technicians and managers in different aspects of renewable energy technologies. If only, as Mr Shende wondered, governments would support initiatives like this in the renewable energy industry on the same scale as the bailouts they gave to commercial banks.

This is the first in a series of posts that will explore different aspects of the challenge we face in providing the education and training for jobs in the low-carbon green economy. If the subject is of interest to you, don’t forget to check back over the next few weeks for the next installments.

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