What is a ‘green job’? Growing acceptance and understanding of the challenges of climate change have pushed environmental policy to the forefront of politics in Wales, the UK and beyond.

Those challenges, coupled with the crippling economic consequences of 14 months of coronavirus, mean that come May each of the mainstream political parties is promising to bring about not just a recovery from the pandemic, but one which places Wales firmly on a path to a greener, more sustainable future.

Some parties have pledged to reach specific job creation targets if they are elected in May. Plaid Cymru says a £6billion Green Economic Stimulus will generate 60,000 jobs over the five-year Senedd term, while the Welsh Conservatives say they will increase the Welsh workforce by 65,000 – of which 15,000 will be “green-collar jobs”.

Other parties have vowed in more general terms to make the economy more environmentally-friendly. Welsh Labour says it will “build a stronger, greener economy” and “strengthen our economic contract [so] decarbonisation... is at the heart of everything we do”.

The Welsh Liberal Democrats have promised to prioritise green jobs in a “package of measures to boost incomes and create jobs” after the pandemic.

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Traditionally, the limits of what was considered a green job have been fairly narrow. The non-profit organisation Green New Deal UK said most people understood green jobs to mean employment that “helps us move to a post-carbon economy” – things like building renewable energy infrastructure such as wind turbines and solar farms, insulating homes to make them more energy-efficient, or restoring natural spaces.

This fits in with the current political thinking. The Welsh Tories, for example, said their proposal for 15,000 new green jobs would be in the “sustainable environmental sector,” focusing on plans to invest in and manufacture the equipment for new tidal power and marine energy projects in Wales.

The Lib Dems say their green jobs would cover the supply and construction of “anything that helps fight the climate emergency and contributes towards decarbonisation,” while Plaid takes a similar stance – pledging job creation for railways, food and farming, and renewable energy.

Welsh Labour also backs jobs in renewable energy, as well as creating a national forest and rail technology.

At Green New Deal UK, which is campaigning for government to tackle climate and unemployment issues at the same time, there are now calls for this definition to be expanded.

“We need to broaden our understanding of what makes a job green,” said Hannah Martin, the organisation’s co-executive director.

“A truly green economy is so much more than wind turbines, solar panels and electric vehicles – it is an army of retrofitters, carers, bike couriers and teachers, up and down the country, all working towards transforming our economy.”

Green New Deal UK believes green jobs should include many of the roles of ‘key workers’ during the pandemic.

“Most of these jobs are not only low carbon, they are also local to our communities, and help us to live happy and healthy lives,” the organisation said.

“Jobs in health and social care, education, public transport, and jobs that sustain life by growing food, or enrich it by making art.”

Ms Martin said such key workers had “shouldered the greatest suffering during the pandemic – so now it is crucial that we put those workers at the heart of our recovery with a Green New Deal”.

The organisation now believes that by challenging “pre-existing notions” of green jobs there is the potential to create a net total of more than 23,000 jobs in Wales over the next two years – provided investment is made in the right sectors of the economy.

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If government prioritises green infrastructure, energy, research and development projects; as well as the digital sector and social care, Green New Deal UK has calculated 63,312 green jobs could be created in Wales by 2023.

The bulk of these jobs – around 40,000 of them – would be in social care, while there is the potential to hire nearly 8,000 building workers for green-compliant projects, as well as 2,000 workers in digital infrastructure.

Creating these jobs would be a welcome boost to the economy given the continuing impacts of the pandemic.

Office for National Statistics (ONS) figures put Wales’ unemployment rate at 4.8 per cent – slightly lower than the UK average (4.9 per cent) – and the organisation said the jobs market had been “broadly stable in recent months after the major shock of last spring”.

But the furlough scheme is set to stop at the end of September, and without that cushion of government support the Office for Budget Responsibility – the UK’s official economic forecaster – predicts the average unemployment rate across the four nations will soar to a peak of 6.5 per cent by the end of 2021.

While the pandemic has affected overall employment, Green New Deal UK said the country’s green workforce had been in decline for several years.

The organisation’s analysis of ONS figures found the number of UK green jobs shrank between 2014 and 2019, falling from 235,900 in 2014 to 202,100 in 2019.

Ms Martin says now is the time for government to reverse that trend, investing in green jobs to spearhead a wider economic recovery and mitigate fears of a looming unemployment crisis.

“At a time when we need to rapidly decarbonise our economy and build resilient future industries which will allow people and planet to prosper, having so many people out of work makes no sense,” she said.

“We have so much work to do to build the future we need, but we must see proper government investment to kickstart that green jobs revolution."