More people now work in clean energy than in fossil fuels

The balance shifted decisively during the pandemic.
Installation of wind farms has become a major source of global employment.
Installation of wind farms has become a major source of global employment.
Photo: PAVEL MIKHEYEV (Reuters)
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Nearly 40 million people worldwide work in jobs related to clean energy, according to a Sept. 8 report from the International Energy Agency. That number represents 56% of total energy sector employment, meaning that, for the first time ever, clean energy jobs outnumber those involved in producing, transporting, and burning fossil fuels.

The clean energy jobs includes those upstream, like building solar panels and producing crops for biofuels, as well as downstream, like operating wind farms, installing energy efficiency upgrades in buildings, and selling electric vehicles.

The majority shifted during the pandemic, the report says; in 2019, clean energy was just shy of half of jobs.

The energy sector has a gender equity problem

Since the pandemic, clean energy has accounted for “virtually all of the growth in energy employment,” the report says. That’s largely due to the opening of large new manufacturing facilities for solar and electric vehicles, especially in China.

In spite of headwinds from rising raw material prices and trade disruptions, the report projects clean energy job growth to steam ahead, adding at least 13 million new jobs by 2030, and more than offsetting the continuing loss of jobs in fossil fuels.

One major challenge, however, is gender equity. The share of women in senior leadership roles in the energy sector is only 14%, a low number but about on par with the economy-wide average. But across all jobs, women account for just 16% of employment in the energy sector, compared to 39% economy-wide.