Decarbonisation brings job opportunities to Latin America

Latin America could be 15 million jobs better off by 2030 in a zero emissions economy, a new IDB and ILO report has found
<p>The decarbonisation of Latin American economies could bring new job opportunities, especially with the shift to plant-based diets (image: Alamy)</p>

The decarbonisation of Latin American economies could bring new job opportunities, especially with the shift to plant-based diets (image: Alamy)

The transition to a net-zero emission economy could lead to 15 million more jobs in Latin America and the Caribbean by 2030, according to a new report by the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) and the International Labour Organization (ILO) that also called for a sustainable and inclusive economic recovery after the COVID-19 pandemic.

22.5 million

new jobs would be created in Latin America by 2030 with the shift to a net zero carbon economy

The report found that the transition would kill off 7.5 million jobs in sectors from fossil fuel-generated electricity and extraction, and animal-based food production. However, these would be hugely outweighed by 22.5 million new employment opportunities in plant-based food production, renewable electricity, forestry, construction, and manufacturing.

“Decarbonisation is a necessary and feasible goal for Latin America and the Caribbean that could bring lots of benefits,” said Graham Watkins, head of climate change at the IDB. “All the countries of the region could create more jobs than the ones that would be destroyed as part of the transition to a decarbonised economy.”

Latin America’s decarbonisation goals

Stabilising climate change below 2°C and as close to 1.5°C as possible is the objective of the 2015 Paris Agreement, which requires getting to net-zero emissions by 2050. Doing so, a process known as decarbonising the economy, means greatly reducing man-made emissions.

Latin America and the Caribbean can achieve carbon-free prosperity through immediate actions across a range of sectors, the report argued. This includes reducing waste, halting deforestation, planting trees, improving public transportation and phasing out fossil fuels, replacing them with renewables.

Nor would this be at the expense of total amount of jobs in Latin America and dietary changes could be the main driver of a labour market shift towards decarbonisation, the the ILO and IDB report found.

The key to making employment and environment compatible is the just transition

A shift towards plant-based diets in the region would create 19 million full-time jobs in agriculture by 2030, whilst shedding the 4.3 million in livestock herding, poultry, dairy and fishing. This could also help tackle deforestation driven by beef production in South America.

“Progress in this area would allow for the restoration of ecosystems, sustainable agriculture, and, in the longer term, ecotourism,” Ana Maria Rodríguez Ortiz of the IDB and Moussa Ouamaoru of ILO wrote in the report.

Job losses and creation in the power sector would be modest in terms of the wider economy, with 60,000 fewer in fossil fuel plants and 100,000 more in renewable electricity. Construction, manufacturing, and forestry would also enjoy net job creation.

More than half the new 22.5 million are medium-skilled (13.5 million), with one-third low-skilled (8 million), and 1 million high-skilled positions. These new low- and medium-skill jobs would benefit a substantial part of the 66 million people currently considered ‘underutilised’ in the labour market.

Furthermore, many of those losing their jobs in carbon-intensive sectors could make use of their skills in new industries after brief retraining or on-the-job training, the report argued. Companies will also have to acquire new skills to cope with climate change impacts.

“The key to making employment and environment compatible is the just transition,” said Vinicius Pinheiro, the ILO’s head for Latin America. “We need a transition that ensures that the passage to a sustainable economy is done on an equitable way, guaranteeing workers have the necessary skills and means to get a job in the future.”

Next steps

All countries in Latin America have ratified the Paris Agreement and have presented climate pledges, also known as NDCs, to reduce their emissions and adapt to the effects of climate change. Nevertheless, many are considered insufficient in term of limiting global warming to 2°C.

The region is now working to increase its climate ambition through new NDCs and long-term strategies to decarbonise by 2050. Chile and Costa Rica have taken initial steps, the former updating its NDC in April and the latter recently presenting its strategy to achieve net-emissions.

More are due. Peru, Costa Rica, Mexico and Argentina, are among those reportedly working on new climate plans. However, progress since March has been halted by the coronavirus pandemic, likely pushing the launch of new plans back to next year.

Countries across the region have scaled up investment in clean industries in recent years. Uruguay, Colombia and Mexico have boosted renewables and many Latin America cities have rolled out electric public transport thanks to Chinese imported buses.

Watkins said: “To stop the climate crisis we need zero emissions by 2050. All the countries in the region agreed to that target and many are working in plans to make it happen. This is a feasible objective technically speaking and it can bring many economic benefits to Latin America.”