Climate Change and Jobs in the Adaptive Economy

While automation and artificial intelligence are displacing many tasks we do, forces like climate change will be a major driver of jobs growth over the years to come.

Every cloud has a silver lining. Climate change poses great threats but it also presents great challenges, many of which we are capable of meeting through a combination of economic, technological and behavioural changes. We have the knowledge, skills and capabilities to act intelligently and urgently.

The benefits of decisive early action are so much greater than we can imagine. The action we take in response to climate change over the next decade will not only profoundly influence the wellbeing of generations to come but also accelerate growth of sustainable industries and jobs at a time when we urgently need them.

Those nations and regions that act early and decisively to tackle climate change are laying the foundations for sustainable 21st century economies. They will be rewarded as the first movers in what we might call the ‘adaptive economy’ – an economy and society that is being reshaped by the necessity to adapt to climate change and do all that we can to mitigate the threat of dangerous climate change.

climate-change-jobs-adaptive-economy-adelaide-review
The number of jobs created by new energy and technology industries is not to be underestimated, say Spoehr and Crossman

The idea of an adaptive economy is not unique. It has parallels with sustainable development strategies like the green economy, low-carbon economy and the circular economy. At the centre of the idea of the ‘adaptive economy’ is the imperative to accelerate the development of solutions to climate change knowing that it will underpin the growth of sustainable industries and jobs.

An adaptive economy encompasses many of the ideas behind the low-carbon economy and green economy, and includes, but is not limited to, employment and potential growth in green jobs and green industries. It sees the need for transformative change in production systems and the need to rethink our consumption patterns. A successful adaptive economy is characterised by knowledge intensive industry development involving the generation and application of advanced technologies in tandem with sustainable policies, behaviours and practices.

An adaptive economy is one in which local skills, goods and services respond in sophisticated ways to climate change related risks and opportunities. In doing so, they meet local needs while offering the prospect of helping other nations to solve their problems. In other words, we can export our technologies, knowledge and skills in aid of tackling climate change globally. While this represents an enormous opportunity it should also be seen as the responsibility of nations like Australia.

So, what is the scale of the opportunity domestically? Modelling undertaken by the National Institute for Economic and Industry Research for the Australian Council of Trade Unions and the Australian Conservation Foundation suggested that around 500,000 new jobs could be created by 2030 in industries such as energy efficiency, sustainable water systems, biomaterial, green buildings and waste recycling. About 150,000 of these were in South Australia. Of course growth in these sectors will be greatly influenced by prevailing policy and programs as well as local initiatives and enlightened entrepreneurship.

climate-change-jobs-adaptive-economy-adelaide-reviewOne in four SA households use solar power – one of the highest uptake rates in the world

South Australia has an ambition to become carbon neutral by 2050, with a commitment to make Adelaide the world’s first carbon neutral city by 2020. The state was the first Australian jurisdiction to introduce climate change legislation in 2007. The Climate Change and Greenhouse Emissions Reduction Act 2007 set a target for the state to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 60 per cent of 1990 levels by 2050. By 2012, the state’s net emissions were 9 per cent below 1990 levels. During this time, the state’s economy grew by 60 per cent, demonstrating that economic growth can be independent from growth in greenhouse gas emissions.

South Australia embraced the renewable energy industry. By 2014, renewable energy supplied 41 per cent of the South Australia’s electricity, including 34 per cent generated from wind energy. The state has one of the highest rates of rooftop solar panel installation, with one in four households generating their own power. As a result, the renewables industry has experienced significant jobs growth, a trend that we would do well to maintain.

The storage of renewable energy in battery systems is emerging as a new technology that can offer significant economic potential. Battery storage technology investment provides opportunity in two ways: 1) to reap regional benefits from the establishment of backup power and generators for local businesses and key infrastructure, and 2) to position South Australia as a major international force in the advancement of this sector. On the back of South Australia’s strong performance in the development of renewable energy generation, involvement in battery storage technology aligns well with the state’s economic and environmental policy directions.

One tangible illustration of this is the transformation of the former Mitsubishi manufacturing site at Tonsley in Adelaide’s southern suburbs. The award-winning site is recognised as Australia’s only urban renewal project to receive a Six Star Green Star Communities certification by the Green Building Council of Australia.

architectural-photography-tonsley-sam-noonan-adelaide-reviewThe reformed Tonsley precinct is an example of this new ‘adaptive economy’ (photo: Sam Noonan)

The precinct brings high-value manufacturing and technology-based businesses together with the education, training and research sectors, to facilitate innovation and collaboration focussing on green design and sustainable building practices. New development manuals and site-specific design protocols were created for future buildings on the Tonsley site, setting benchmarks for sustainable and liveable urban renewal projects across the country.

The benefits of urban renewal involving reuse of infrastructure are significant. For example, the choice to retain the large assembly building at Tonsley saved around 90,000 tonnes of embodied carbon emissions. Key features of the site include integration of residential, transport, leisure and businesses on the one site, water-sensitive urban design, and in the future a 3MW photovoltaic array.

There is a need to focus much greater attention on the potential contribution that development of an adaptive economy might make to industry diversification and jobs growth in South Australia.

John Spoehr is Director of the Australian Industrial Transformation Institute at Flinders University
@JohnSpoehr

Sarah Crossman is a Research Officer at Flinders University

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