The ‘jobs vs the environment’ debate continues to attract attention. Contradictory views abound: from those in the north-west of the US who feel that environmental action is a disaster for jobs, to environmental analysts and others who see enormous employment opportunities in environmental protection and management.
In 1993 the European Commission (Directorate General V, Employment, Industrial Relations and Social Affairs), charged with the urgent task of pursuing an effective employment agenda while continuing to support environmental progress, commissioned an investigation into the ‘jobs and the environment’ debate (Wikima Consulting 1993). Forecasts of 23 million unemployed in the European Union within three years were looming. The Fifth Environmental Action Programme called for wide-ranging tougher environmental action. The issues and the opportunities for jobs linked to the environmental agenda needed to be understood.
The objective of the 1993 report was to identify information showing the actual employment effects of environmental action. The conclusion of the study was almost unanimous—that much work needed to be done to take the debate beyond existing speculation and parochial reaction. Many agreed that it was time to alter the balance between the thick layer of beliefs and values at the foundation of the debate, and the thin veneer of hard evidence. 1
Meanwhile, based on available data, opinions differed widely—and still do. For example, many in the private sector are (thankfully) moving to integrated clean technologies and away from ‘end of pipe’ solutions. Generally, new technologies are associated with fewer jobs. So those such as Noel Morrin, former Director of Business in the Environment, tend to be pessimistic about the employment opportunities concomitant with environmental progress. On the other hand, Friends of the Earth in their report Working Future? (November 1994) predicted that 700,000 new jobs could be created in the UK through policy changes in areas such as transport, energy, etc.