Greening Jobs in Sri Lanka: Getting Things Started

UNEP (2008)
defines the concept of green jobs as encompassing two basic elements. The first involves, “averting dangerous and potentially unmanageable climate change and protecting the natural environment which supports life on earth.” The second element focuses on “providing decent work and thus the prospect of well-being and dignity for all in the face of rapid population growth worldwide and the current exclusion of over a billion people from economic and social development.”


It is accepted fact that the promotion of green jobs encourages sustainable development and it is by definition, a tool for coping with climate change. In addition, green jobs can provide a business advantage for the private sector which will contribute towards the sustainable development of a country. Also, and most importantly, green jobs explicitly provide decent work. The ILO defines decent work as being “productive work for women and men in conditions of freedom, equity, security, and human dignity.” Accordingly, decent would should include “opportunities for work that is productive and delivers a fair income; provides security in the workplace and social protection for workers and their families; offers better prospects for personal development and encourages social integration; gives people the freedom to express their concerns, to organize and to participate in decisions that affect their lives; and guarantees equal opportunities and equal treatment for all.” Therefore, it could be argued that “green jobs” are not merely sustainable, but also ethical in their inherent promotion of equity and personal growth.


The widespread acceptance of the concept would then increase the number of jobs through which environmental sustainability and decent work conditions are incorporated into economic activities. Therefore, green jobs can be considered as a positive outcome of sustainable development with particular reference to the energy sector, where there is an increasing recognition in the potential of creating green jobs and the emphasis on finding sustainable solutions for current energy-related issues.


Identifying the “Green”

Estimating the number of green jobs in a country or a sector is a challenging task, given the complexity of different processes/components, range of stakeholders and skill classes involved. In the first instance, it is difficult to measure which of the activities are environmentally sustainable using macro level data because this essentially requires a micro level assessment. There isn’t a comprehensive set of criteria developed for identifying environmentally sustainable activities. Therefore, the first step would be to identify these criteria. Once the environmentally sustainability aspects have been identified, then comes the issue of ‘decency of work,’ which is, again, challenging to assess. The criteria for identifying green jobs can vary depending on the nature of the economic sectors, and further complicating the matter, differences can exist between different countries for the same sector as well.


Green Jobs in Sri Lanka

Again, there is no readily available information to provide an estimate of the country as a whole. However, a number of economic sectors which have significant involvements in the natural environment and deal with natural resources, have the potential to generate green jobs, which means that green jobs can be found in the industrial, fisheries, forestry, agriculture, energy, water, tourism, and waste management sectors. As mentioned previously, environmental sustainability aspects are not uniform across sectors. The dependence on the natural environment and the contribution of different economic sectors to the environment vary to different degrees and are incredibly complex. In addition, even within the sectors, identifying the activities or sub-sectors which adopt sustainability aspects remains a challenge. There can also be geographical variations in this regard.


Incorporation of decent work aspects, further, adds to the complexity of green job assessments. In many cases, there is no compiled information about aspects which constitute decent work. This again, highlights the urgent need for the development of country-specific criteria for the different economic sectors.


Given the increasing importance of sustainable development, Sri Lanka has taken steps to promote the concept of a “Green Economy” in various ways. A National Action Plan has been developed by the Ministry of Environment for the furtherance of this concept. This action plan, called the National Action Plan for the Harith Lanka Programme, has deemed “Number of green jobs increased” as a measurement of the Strategy/Action 9.3 which is to, “Promote private sector and other professional institutions to incorporate sustainable development practices in the economic and social development systems/procedures.”


Although there has been no direct initiative to promote green jobs, increased emphasis on making the ongoing development activities sustainable as well as the provision of decent work will have direct implications on the availability of green jobs in Sri Lanka. As green jobs brings simultaneous implications on two distinct development aspects, environmental sustainability and decent work, coordinated action is required between the agencies which are mandated to undertake them.