Academic journal article International Journal of Labour Research

The Reality and Challenges of Green Jobs in China: An Exploration

Academic journal article International Journal of Labour Research

The Reality and Challenges of Green Jobs in China: An Exploration

Article excerpt

The remarkable economic growth experienced by China since the beginning of the economic reform in 1978 has been widely praised as a "miracle". The tremendous wealth generated in the country through its rapid industrialization in the past 30 years is indeed impressive. However, such an astonishing economic achievement does not come without a cost. Although China is expected to remain the fastest growing economy in the world for the next decade, such growth will not be sustainable in the long run due to serious environmental degradation and overexploitation of natural resources.

China's economic development has been heavily dependent on carbonbased energy. According to the International Energy Agency's statistics, in 2010, China had already overtaken the United States to become the world's biggest energy consumer (IEA, 2010). China's total primary energy consumption had jumped from 776 million tonnes of oil equivalent in 2000 to 2,164 million tonnes of oil equivalent in 2009 (NBS, 2010, as cited in Cheung, 2011). Nevertheless, coal is still the major energy source in China. Over 60 per cent of the energy consumption in China is from coal (Chang et al., 2003). Coal-fired power generation not only causes serious air pollution in China, it also contributes significantly to the nation's greenhouse gases emissions. The total annual C02 emission in China is now about 6 billion tonnes, which makes it one of the top emitters of the world. In 2000, the total amount of S02 emission had reached 20 million tonnes, the highest in the world (Liu, Liu and Sun, 2011). Both of these are known to be among the major greenhouse gases.

According to the 4th Assessment Report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), the rate of warming has nearly doubled over the past 50 years (Solomon et al., 2007). There is general consensus among the scientific community that humans are causing global climate change. As one of the major strategies to mitigate climate change, the Chinese government is now spending billions of dollars each year to build and expand its own renewable energy industries. It is estimated by the WorldWatch Institute that there are about a million people currently working in China's renewable sector, and that the solar thermal industry alone employs approximately 600,000 workers (WWI, 2011). The number of green jobs created by the renewable industries, such as hydropower, wind power, and solar photovoltaic (PV), is expected to grow tremendously in the next few decades.

Despite the growing importance of these newly created green jobs, their working conditions (i.e. wage level, occupational health and safety, etc.) still remain largely unexplored. This paper aims to explore the working conditions of the green jobs created by the renewable energy sector, and we narrow down our focus to wind power plants in order to allow for a more concentrated analysis. Renewable energy can be generated from a variety of sources, including solar, wind, hydro, geothermal and biofuels. It would be difficult, if not impossible, to discuss all renewable industries in China effectively. For instance, a person working at a geothermal power plant may be subjected to occupational hazards that are different from those at a hydropower plant. Besides, among all the renewables, some are more developed than others. China started to develop its wind power in the early 1980s, and in 2011, it overtook the United States to become the country with the highest installed capacity, reaching 44,733.29 MW (CWEA, 2011). Some of the wind turbine manufacturing companies, like Sinovel, Goldwind and Dongfang, are even among the world's top ten. Considering its significance in Chinas renewable industry, comparing the wind power sector with the conventional power sector will provide us with some insights into the working conditions of green jobs in China.

In this paper, we will use the case of wind power plants to evaluate the working conditions of green jobs and to identify potential strategies to help to ensure that green jobs are decent jobs. …

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