Creating green jobs could help address both unemployment and environmental degradation in India

Ravi Kumar*, 37, had always imagined that he would work at the Bangarpet gold mines where his father had been employed all his life. But then the mine, in South Eastern Karnataka’s Kolar district, shut down in 2001, forcing him to seek employment in the state capital, Bengaluru, 80 km away.

Kumar is now a janitor at a Bengaluru hotel, doing the long commute six days a week. There are around 4,000 men and women like him travelling long distances from Bangarpet in search of employment.

Like many other towns in Karnataka, Bangarpet also faces an acute water shortage, unable to provide even 40 litres to 50 litres per person per day during summers, far lower than the 135 litres benchmarked by the Ministry of Housing and Urban Affairs.

Bangarpet’s story can be heard across many small towns in Karnataka. Unemployment and environmental degradation are together emerging as two huge problems in these towns, concluded a team of researchers from the Indian Institute for Human Settlements, Bengaluru. The team studied 12 urban local bodies in Karnataka – Bangarpet, Bidar, Chamrajnagar, Davanagere, Haliyal, Hubli-Dharwad, KR Nagar, Lingasugur, Sakleshpur, Sira, Ullal and Yadgir.

Several of these urban local bodies lack the resources, capacity and financial autonomy to improve their delivery of basic services, the study found. These towns also face severe environmental stresses such as flooding, landslides and coastal erosion. Together, financial unsustainability and environmental hazards are driving migration, while leading to poor quality of life and public health concerns, the study found.

Is it possible to address these twin problems together using an interconnected solution – the generation of green jobs? These are decent jobs, as classified by the International Labour Organisation, that also help preserve the environment. The jobs can come from both the traditional sectors such as manufacturing and construction as well as emerging green sectors such as renewables, water conservation, waste management and so on.

The Indian Institute for Human Settlements study estimated the number of green jobs that could be generated in a year in towns and cities of different sizes in a few core sectors such as renewable energy, waste management, green transport and urban farming. The estimate was based on the population of the town and an assumption of the percentage of people who are likely to adopt sustainable practices in each of the core sectors.

In all, the green sector in these 12 cities could generate up to 650 jobs in a town municipal council, 1,875 jobs in a city municipal council and 9,085 jobs in a municipal corporation, the authors estimated. Of these, 150-2,500 jobs could be generated in the renewable energy sector depending on the size of a town, 300-2,000 jobs in waste management, 20-125 in green transport and 80-1,700 in urban farming.

India’s shift to a green economy could add 3 million jobs in the renewable energy sector alone by 2030, estimated the International Labour Organisation. This sector created 47,000 new jobs in India in 2017, employing 432,000 people, as per a July 2018 IndiaSpend report. The number of jobs in India’s green energy sector, excluding large hydropower projects, rose by 12% in just one year to 2017.

Around 20% of the more than 500,000 new green jobs created globally in 2017 were in India, implying that more than 721,000 Indians were employed in the sector. Green jobs thus appear to be the way forward for a nation with a high demographic dividend, a high unemployment rate and a degrading environment. About 24 million jobs could be created by transitioning to a circular economy, which includes activities such as recycling, repair, rent and remanufacture, and ecosystem services such as air and water purification, soil renewal and fertilisation, according to this 2018 study.

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