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Greening SA's economy a major job-spinner

green-jobs-picMinister of Economic Development Ebrahim Patel at the launch of the Green Jobs reportGrowing South Africa's green economy could create more than 460 000 new jobs by 2025 while cutting the country's dependence on carbon-intensive industries - this is according to the Green Jobs report released on 25 November 2011.

The 150-page report is a collaboration between the Industrial Development Corporation (IDC), Development Bank of Southern Africa (DBSA) and Trade and Industrial Policy Strategies (Tips).

The UN Environment Programme describes a green economy as one whose growth in income and employment is driven by state- and private-sector investments that reduce carbon emissions and pollution.

With South Africa's current unemployment rate of 25% and the country's economy being one of the most carbon-intensive globally, the report comes at critical time.

"The experience of several advanced and emerging countries that have been adopting green initiatives point toward an extraordinary opportunity for South Africa as it pursues a job-rich new growth path," Minister of Economic Development Ebrahim Patel said at the launch.

"As a considerable emitter of greenhouse gases, South Africa faces the challenge of transitioning to a less carbon-intensive growth trajectory without delay. In short, our challenge is to use fewer carbons and more people in our economic growth. This is what we mean by a new growth path," he added.

The timing of the report release, just days ahead of the COP 17 negotiations in Durban, is also significant in demonstrating the country's commitment towards sustainable economic and social development, IDC board chairperson Monhla Hlahla said.

In compiling the report the research team looked at the direct employment potential of 26 green technology sectors, which fall under the four broader categories of energy generation, energy and resource efficiency, emissions and pollution mitigation and natural resource management.

This could create lucrative opportunities in construction, operations and maintenance, as well as the manufacturing of green technology components, such as those used in solar and wind power generation as well as solar water geysers.

Report findings show that energy generation is expected to become an important driver of green job creation over time as projects are constructed or commissioned, while energy and resource efficiency initiatives will deliver significant employment gains in the short and medium term.

Although emission and pollution mitigation interventions are shown as less labour-absorbing, they are critical from an environmental and sustainability standpoint.

The largest contributions to job creation are likely to come from the management of South Africa's rich and diverse natural resources. This means that initiatives to restore or protect sensitive ecosystems in the country could lead to further benefits downstream, according to the report.

An example of this is clearing environmentally important sites of invasive plant species and using the harvested material as inputs for the paper and pulp industries.

"The green economy is complex, extremely diverse, relatively new and fast-evolving in many developed and emerging economies. South Africa will be dealing with the progressive and simultaneous introduction of technologies that are being improved, developed or commercialised," DBSA's divisional executive of strategic operations David Jarvis said at the report launch.

"The economic merit of many of these technologies may only be fully established in years to come, opening up opportunities for the establishment of infant industries over time, but placing a requirement on countries to invest now to realise any first-mover advantages," he added.

The detailed employment estimates in the report will go a long way in helping prioritise various green economy segments, identify possible support mechanisms and clarify the role of stakeholders, according to Minister Patel.

"In the words of the International Labour Organisation, to whom we gave an advance copy of the report: 'This is an impressive study, very well structured and clearly written - to our knowledge, it's the first of its kind in an emerging economy. It provides exceptional insights into the various green technologies analysed and is therefore likely to be replicated in other countries'," he said.

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