More and better jobs in a low carbon future: Provocations and possibilities

Steven Shelley

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This paper is a literature-based analysis which examines the scope for net job creation and improvement in working conditions whilst tackling climate change, firstly considering two over-arching contextual settings, then outlining job growth, location and quality outcomes.
Firstly as context, the paper takes a far-reaching position on the scale and breadth of carbon reduction actions required, as described in Allen et al (2013), in which job implications will arise from powering up energy from renewable sources, powering down energy demand and reducing consumption, and from associated changes in diet, health and diversified land use. Current literature on work and employment does not adequately cover this breadth and extent of change, due to issues of relative short-termism, partial insights (limited typically to formal ‘green’ sectors of the economy), and the way in which employment and carbon reduction policies and literature largely do not engage with each other (Shelley, 2015).This paper takes a more holistic approach which sees the linking of climate change adaptation and mitigation, biodiversity conservation and reduced environmental degradation, and the creation of green and decent jobs (Figueres and Ryder, 2014; Sustainlabour, 2016).
To achieve the changes required, the second over-arching consideration taken here suggests the need for an altered understanding of work. This sees an emphasis on full distributive employment and work-sharing, re-balancing the role of unpaid work with paid employment, and a re-valuation of work as productive time in the context of overall incomes and lifestyles (Norgard, 2013). With reduced consumption lifestyles likely to be in combination with an increasingly labour intensive local economy (Neuvonen et al, 2014), there is an opportunity to increase participation in work, make that work more meaningful with increased dignity and self-esteem in the social economy (Roseland, 2000), and with a positive net effect for wellbeing and carbon reduction (Sekulova et al, 2013). Such work-share is likely partly to require regulatory intervention, to create a ‘new welfare’ scenario (Sessa and Ricci, 2014) of redistributed and shorter paid working week, together with income supplements, as a political right; and will also arise through involvement in local mutual forms of organisation (Webb and Cheney, 2014).
In conclusion, the paper argues that carbon reduction actions towards a more diverse range of work forms and locations, provides opportunity for net job creation and improved working conditions, creating a double advantage to population and society. Whilst ensuring airing of relevant critical debates, and although the labour market and job changes required will affect different industries and workers differently over different timescales (Martinez-Fernandes et al, 2010), the paper suggests this diversity in work can include an increase the quantity of high skilled work, in participation, and in increased discretion and autonomy over the work mix, meeting the Decent Work Agenda of UNEP (2008) and Sustainlabour (2016). The nature of work has potential to become more fulfilling, linked to outcomes which in many cases will be not only for economic performance but for a more immediate productive output in use, for social connectivity and affective emotional gain, and for intrinsic satisfaction reward.
Original languageEnglish
Publication statusPublished - 4 Apr 2017
EventInternational Labour Process Conference: Reconnecting work and political economy - University of Sheffield, Sheffield, United Kingdom
Duration: 4 Apr 20176 Apr 2017
Conference number: 35


ConferenceInternational Labour Process Conference
Country/TerritoryUnited Kingdom


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