Feb 23, 2012

Workshop on Green Jobs, ILO

 In 2010, Mauritius requested the ILO’s assistance to further improve its development strategy Maurice Ile
Durable. In this context, the Green Jobs Programme in partnership with the Ministry of Labour, the Employers Federation (MEF) and the Private Sector Union Confederation (CTSP) has started providing support for assessing and optimizing the employment impact of the new concept. Research and awareness raising go hand in hand with capacity building.

Four studies will be conducted by national consultants. One study will consist of a quantitative assessment to
estimate the number of existing jobs and the potential for green jobs in a “Maurice Ile Durable” scenario. A
second study, led by the MEF, will assess actions undertaken by enterprises in the field of green business and greening business. A third study, led by the CTSP, will assess the experience of trade unions in the field of green jobs. Finally, a fourth study will investigate into skills for green jobs. The findings are expected to inform the policy process, the implementation strategy and the ten-year action plan programming taking place in early 2012. A policy validation and planning workshop on ‘Green Jobs in Maurice Ile Durable’ will be held in January 2012

 Mrs Roshini Brizmohun-Gopaul, Lecture in Agricultural Economics attended the workshop organized by the Ministry of Labour in collaboration with the International Labour Office (ILO). Different economic actors participated in the workshop.The Minister Shakeel Mohamed, stated that creation of Green Jobs is important as it will protect the environment, which will not increase the content of carbon in the atmosphere and will offer in the wake a decent job with good wages while generating a profit for entrepreneurs. However we need to keep a close eye on the business community. If we ask a businessman to create jobs which protect the environment, it will ask first what his profit margin. We're fooling ourselves if we believe it will go ahead with this project only because he loves the environment. Employees also will ask questions about their new conditions of employment ... "

Last week, the ministry of Labour organized a two-day workshop on green jobs. Riad Sultan, Researcher in Environmental and Natural Resource Economics at the University of Mauritius, tells us more about greening the economy, why it’s important and why our current development model is fundamentally flawed.
What exactly is a green job?
It’s a job that’s connected to decreasing energy consumption, material intensity, greenhouse gases and to protecting ecosystems. In short, they’re jobs that help create a low carbon economy. The first green jobs that come to mind are jobs in the forestry and marine conservation sectors, jobs that are directly involved with protecting the environment. That’s a bit reductive though. There’s a potential for green jobs in every sector of the economy, including agriculture (sugar and non-sugar), forestry, fisheries, manufacturing (textile and non-textile), finance, etc. The list goes on.
The question we’re asking is: how can these sectors be green? Take agriculture. We look at the processes involved in farming for instance. A farmer who uses chemical products which degrade the environment is called a conventional farmer. If, on the other hand, he uses organic fertilizers and natural pesticides, his job becomes a green job. The same thing applies to manufacturing companies. Their production processes use electricity and water and generate waste. But if a company employs people specifically to reduce its energy use by using, for instance, solar panels and natural light, these can be described as green jobs.
Like RT Knits []a textile factory in La Tour Koening that has invested massively in reducing its carbon footprint] has done for example.
Yes, green jobs are part of a development paradigm. It’s about changing modes of production. It’s also important to note however that green jobs are not limited to environmental criteria.
Green jobs have to be decent jobs. A job that’s environmentally friendly but offers terrible working conditions is not a green job. People who work in waste management, for instance, do very important jobs, but because conditions are often poor they cannot be called green jobs. There are no absolutes however, it’s a process.
What’s your assessment of the state of green jobs in Mauritius?
According to our assessment of the main pillars of the economy, we found that around 6% of the workforce is engaged in green jobs.
Which sectors are generating the most green jobs at the moment?
Well, using the census of companies, we calculated the intensity of the materials being used in different sectors. Some companies are doing well in terms of their water use, whereas others have been able to reduce their energy consumption. Using all this data, we were able to evaluate the relative greenness of different firms.
Is there a reason why you haven’t mentioned the tourism industry yet?
The study doesn’t aim to say who’s good and who’s bad. It’s a process. Some hotels are doing very well in terms of energy savings, others have been able to reduce their water consumption, others yet are engaged in recycling. There are different yardsticks.
Which sectors have the greatest potential for green jobs?
The potential is everywhere. 44 000 people work in agriculture, of which 20 000 work in the non-sugar sector. According to our calculations only 1% of non-sugar jobs are green jobs. This weakness is not unique to Mauritius, it’s a global phenomenon. There’s a pool of 19 000 jobs that can be “greened”, if only we shift farming practices. There’s a huge potential and that’s just for existing jobs. Now, what about the jobs that will be created over the next five years? Once again greening the economy is not a one-shot thing, it’s a process composed also of other factors like decent work conditions and profitability.
So what you’re saying is that companies have to be socially and financially sustainable in order to be environmentally sustainable…
Partly. There’s a myth that going green is detrimental to the bottom line. Look at RT Knits, for example, by greening its operations, it’s been able to make massive savings in terms of its water and electricity use. By embarking on processes that are environmentally friendly, companies have a huge amount to gain. It’s just that these gains are not always visible.
What needs to be done to fulfill the potential of the green economy?
A lot of companies argue that investing in new technologies is too onerous, especially in a time of economic crisis such as this one. The State definitely needs to offer “carrots” to encourage them to take the plunge. A very good incentive, for instance, would be the setting up of a certification system for green goods and services. This could help inform consumers and create a demand for this sort of products.
Green jobs sound very nice in theory. But what’s the point of having them?
A recent report by the United Nations Environmental Programme (UNEP) entitled, “Keeping Track of Our Changing Environment: From Rio to Rio+20” concludes with the observation that 20 years of discussion on sustainable development have left all our natural assets – land, quality of air, sea, etc. - degraded. This means that conventional wisdom about development has major problems. If we continue down this path, we will reach a dead end. And it’s not just about the environment. To be productive, you need clean air, water, etc.
Another important point is that when we invest in green jobs sector, such as green agriculture, it increases employment in the agricultural sector. Employment also rises indirectly in other sectors which supply inputs to the agriculture sector. Since a demand for organic fertilizers is created, there is a rise in output of organic fertilizer and employment rises.
Didn’t we miss an opportunity with the financial crisis? Rather than reform the system we simply pumped more cash into it…
The concept of a green economy is not limited to one or two levels. Societies and economic activities are so intimately enmeshed that you can’t reform either of them in isolation. To make things even more complex, you have different spheres of action. You have the international level with bodies like the World Trade Organisation, then there’s the regional level, then the local level and so on and so forth. All the way down to the individual. Without some sort of synchronization between all these spheres, most initiatives will eventually collapse. For example, what’s the point of separating your waste if it all gets dumped in the same place? You need a system for recycling and for that to happen, you need a demand for the different types of waste.
The waste management sector is indeed a good example. Doesn’t it surprise you to see how little is being done by the authorities to encourage waste segregation and recycling?
It’s very surprising indeed. A recent report in the US showed that the bulk of green jobs came from conservation and waste management. In a consumerist society like ours, the amount of waste we generate is bound to rise over time. The recycling sector has a huge potential in terms of employment, economic activities and, of course, preserving the environment.
How do you explain this lethargy in a country that aspires to becoming a model of sustainable development?
Maybe it’s because people think there’s no profit to be made in the sector although I have several reports saying the contrary. We studied a company that manufactures compost from organic waste. Like all companies, it employs people and strives for profits. It’s just that it also happens to offer a useful solution to some of our waste problems. Without the right mechanisms however, such as waste segregation, the impact of such companies will be limited. The lethargy can perhaps be explained by the fact that we’ve inherited systems from the past. Again waste is a good example. Under the old system, there was no segregation. Companies who want to go into recycling have to go out and look for their own raw materials. These systems continue to influence our model of development.
Let’s talk about incentives. Government recently created a Resilience Fund of Rs7 billion, which is a lot of money. Would it be unreasonable to expect that part of this fund be allocated to greening companies rather than just allowing them to go on with business as usual?
We’ve got to look at the context. The fund was set up in a specific context whereas greening is a continuous process.
Yes, but the crisis is proof that something’s wrong. And unless we address its causes, won’t we just be going in circles?
The causes may all be related but the crisis is a model in and of itself. It’s the result of a deficit in governance and transparency. The remedies are different to the greening of the economy.
That’s a good point. Isn’t good governance a prerequisite to a green economy?
It is indeed. The concept of good governance was introduced after it became obvious that there was a problem in terms of the way companies operated and that a code of governance was needed. Ultimately it serves to protect their own interests.
Now we realize that the same economic activities are degrading the environment. Governance nowadays goes beyond the board of directors, directors and shareholders. It’s also about environmental governance, which is why environmental economics is increasingly trying to evaluate the monetary value of natural assets. There’s a recognition that companies can’t exist outside the natural system.
Nicholas RAINER
(l’express iD, Tuesday 28 February)

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