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In a green economy, growth in employment and income is driven by public and private investment into economic activities. Picture: 123RF
In a green economy, growth in employment and income is driven by public and private investment into economic activities. Picture: 123RF

The UN Environment Programme defines a green economy as low carbon, resource efficient and socially inclusive. It says in a green economy, growth in employment and income is driven by: 

  • Public and private investment in economic activities; 
  • Infrastructure and assets that allow reduced carbon emissions and pollution; 
  • Enhanced energy; and
  • Resource efficiency and prevention of the loss of biodiversity and ecosystem services. 

As environmental, social and governance (ESG) imperatives place an increased focus on sustainability and drive a transition towards a green economy, the impact will be felt in the labour market.

A recent FM green economy dialogue focused on understanding how an energy transition will cause shifts in the volume, type and quality of employment opportunities and whether the green economy will create more and better jobs. 

The dialogue was in partnership with Sanlam Investment, Wits Business School's African Energy Leadership Centre (AELC), Technology Innovation Agency (TIA), the Small Enterprise Development Agency (Seda) and moderated by Andile Khumalo. 

Mervyn Shanmugam, CEO of alternatives at Sanlam Investments, said the company’s aim is to invest both for returns and sustainable impact, and its investments provide access to a range of alternative investment strategies. Shanmugam said investors want a commercial and social return on their investments and that both are possible.

The trick will be how SA implements a just transition, he said. It is estimated that R250bn is required to put sustainable infrastructure in place. Shanmugam said there is sufficient capital available locally and globally to meet SA’s carbon reduction targets by 2050. 

Prof Lwazi Ngubevana, director of the AELC at Wits Business School, said the its role is to develop future energy leaders, research innovative solutions, and try to influence energy policy. He said Africa faces the challenge of being an energy-poor continent that is still required to decarbonise. Energy security is the continent’s biggest challenge and any focus on green energy must take this into account.

He said the AELC proposes a pragmatic approach to the green economy; an approach which has energy security as its north star. “Without energy security, we won’t grow the economy or create jobs,” said Ngubevana. He said there is no question the green economy has the potential to be a catalyst for job creation and innovation.

Vusi Skosana, acting executive responsible for innovation enabling at the TIA, said the agency is were mandated to be a catalyst and enabler for innovations and transfer technology solutions to start-ups, researchers and emerging enterprises. 

He said skills development and the readiness of all stakeholders in the green economy is a top priority for the organisation, to ensure no-one is left behind in SA’s energy transition. 

Malembe Mtsweni, acting senior manager responsible for the incubation Seda, said the organisation’s role is to strengthen the incubation network of small businesses to be in a better position to create jobs. He said the green economy will create more jobs than most people think and it’s a big opportunity.