OUR planet is under stress on account of large populations, the exponentially expanding human capacity for production, and manufacturing spurred by technology and unbridled consumerism. Human capacities are deployed in either manufacturing and production sector or the service sector. Both are mutually reinforcing for profit, thus causing increased degradation of the natural environment and resources. The question arises: can we take measures to help arrest the trend and gainfully employ human energies and resources for the recovery and health of Planet Earth? One such step would be the recognition and popularisation of an ‘environment service sector’.
Even if the world population stabilises somewhere around the 10 billion mark, consumption patterns of excess are not sustainable. Technological advance in production and services alone is not the answer. Technology often results in excess capacities, generates waste, and causes pollution and environmental damage. Paradoxically, it also leads to unemployment.
Economists and data analysts use different nomenclature for understanding and planning distribution of the human workforce. Until the end of the 19th century, human resources were largely seen to be deployed in production and manufacturing. Thereafter, the services sector came into vogue and identified for convenience of analysis. The complexity of the modern-day workforce has prompted analysts and theorists to also talk about the secondary and tertiary sectors, based on a theory of progression from agriculture and mining to the manufacturing of goods, and finally towards more service-based structures.
Already, the concept of ‘green industries’ and ‘green jobs’ exists. According to the ILO, at least 60 million jobs can be created if a global effort is made to reverse the causes and effects of climate change. A 2017 report by IDENA estimates that renewable energy alone employs 8.1 million people. UNEP and ILO joined hands in 2013 to establish an interagency mechanism called Partnership for Action on Green Economy, whose other members include UNIDO, UNITAR and UNDP, to promote environmentally friendly goods and services.
The concept of an environment service sector must reach beyond the creation of green industries and jobs.
The concept of an ‘environment service sector’ should embrace all these initiatives that recognise and promote a range of human activities that serve to preserve the planet and promote environment-friendly living. Further, the concept must encompass a larger purpose that reaches beyond the creation of green industries and jobs.
The question arises: how will this purpose be advanced by the proposed categorisation? It will bring into sharper relief and place a new emphasis on all activities attending to the environment. It will heighten consciousness at multiple levels of socioeconomic and political dimensions of the environment, and the need to prioritise policies addressing environmental degradation and climate change.
However, introduction of this new categorisation alone will not be enough. Incentives will be needed to make this sector attractive to employment, both in quantifiable terms such as financial benefit and in unquantifiable terms such as prestige.
The new sector will not gain currency right away. It will take time to develop and to receive recognition to become formalised as part of policy and analysis methodology. Promoting this idea and delineating its practical steps will require making a pitch at the academic, political, economic, social, policy and planning arenas at global, regional and country levels. Civil society can play a key role.
The first step will be to designate activities for industries, belonging to the environmental sector and working to prevent environmental degradation, to preserve and improve natural environment and resources. The initiative will have to be taken at the UN, multilateral and governmental levels to adopt and facilitate the sector, as well as laying down procedures and checks to prevent abuse. This involves industries such as water treatment plants; water and waste management bodies; renewable energy; eco-friendly agriculture and livestock; afforestation and rehabilitation of soil; recycling; subsoil water, rivers and oceans; glacier and mountain protection.
The second step is to organise administrative adjustments and measures, education and awareness including media campaigns and government-civil society partnerships. A larger effort will be required in reforming productive sector activities like agriculture, livestock and food processing to make them eco-friendly. Specialised education and trained human resource will be needed, akin to those working for the Food and Drug Administration in the US, for setting standards and oversight. Planning, analysis and statistics departments and institutions will require adjustment for reorientation at the country, regional and global levels.
The third step is to facilitate the aggregate of incentives that shape the environment service sector profile, help its promotion and enhance respectability. Official-level financial incentives and patronage for industries should be prioritised, including tax breaks, subsidies, tariff reductions and other appropriate privileges. Incentives may also include promotion of model villages or neighbourhoods and adoption of villages or projects or parks by the private sector. Employment opportunities with career-enhancement prospects can be generated in a whole range of environment-friendly activities, such as afforestation projects, cleaning of water courses, monitoring and advisory roles. Facilitation must come from governments and public projects.
Careers and professions related to the sector will need to be invested with prestige and value. With the exception of education and medicine, no career or profession carries intrinsic respect other than what society and traditions confer on it. Here the challenge lies in shaping a new outlook at the local levels.
The environment is a responsibility and an opportunity. With technological advances, it is no longer feasible to accommodate the global work force in traditional sectors. We must consider the opportunity to develop the environment as an employment sector to enhance quality of life more in rhythm with nature, and to care and preserve our living planet — the crucible and home to all known life.
The writer is a former foreign secretary and an author. A more detailed version of this article appeared in a Civil Society Coalition for Climate Change (CSCCC) publication.
Published in Dawn, May 11th, 2018