EU green economy to boost quality employment

Transitioning to a green economy will help to boost quality European jobs, argues Jean Lambert.

By Jean Lambert

25 May 2016

Growth does not necessarily equal jobs, and even less does it equal decent, secure, sustainable jobs. Green job creation is not getting the attention it deserves and it's time for EU policies to shed their preoccupation with economic growth and to instead focus on driving a job-rich recovery which doesn't trash the planet.

The green employment initiative passed by the Parliament last year was a positive step in the right direction. It set out the job creation potential of the green economy and showed the support that exists for green job creation policies, including workforce engagement in a green, just transition. But since last summer not enough has happened to realise this potential, and there have even been backwards developments.

The withdrawal and subsequent rewriting of the circular economy package was bad news for jobs. A comparison of the 2014 and the 2015 packages shows 110,000 potential jobs have been lost in the new version.


Measures to properly pursue a circular economy can create half a million new jobs in the EU. We cannot afford to miss opportunities, waste time and sideline jobs like this.

One area to be addressed is long-term reassurance to green businesses. Through legislation, the EU can give certainty to emerging sectors and help them meet their potential.

European Commission figures suggest that up to 20 million jobs could be created in the green economy by 2020. Direct and indirect employment in the wind, wave and tidal energy sectors could grow from 34,000 in 2013 to over 100,000 by 2023 within the EU. And we already know from figures that it is green sectors which have best weathered recession and created most net jobs in Europe during the economic crises.

Another area to be addressed is the transition of workers in polluting industries. The phasing-out of polluting sectors and practices does not have to lead to job losses. As some commodities and products are replaced with more efficient and modern alternatives, workers can be given re-training and new skills. 

There are plenty of decent jobs to be had that contribute to preserving or restoring the quality of the environment: whether it is in agriculture, industry, services or administration.

What's needed next is legislation for the integration of labour into a circular economy so we can ensure the requisite skill set is built for the transition to a low-resource Europe.

The Commission's new skills agenda for Europe, promised in its 2016 work programme, will be an important test of its seriousness on this. And we also need all groups in the Parliament to get on board with the fact that new jobs and decent work can come with the expansion of the environmental sector.

These concepts can work in tandem, and in fact they must.

If the EU is to tackle unemployment and start to live within planetary boundaries, we can waste no more time in kick-starting a job-rich green economy. Environmental sustainability must be part of building an economy that is fi t for the future.

Legislation which brings about EU-wide greener practices has the real potential to create sustainable employment and business practices for generations to come.


Read the most recent articles written by Jean Lambert - Green jobs could change the way we live, so what are we waiting for?