Employment numbers in environmental protection sector rising steadily

Use economic stimulus packages for environmentally friendly investments

worker installing a thermal insulation on a facade of a buildingClick to enlarge
Energy efficiency upgrades for buildings are an important job-creating factor.
Source: U. J. Alexander / Getty Images

Some 2.8 million people in Germany were employed in the environmental protection sector in 2017, says a recent report (Beschäftigung und Umweltschutz) by the German Environment Agency (UBA). The importance of environmental protection for the labour market has continued to grow in recent years. In 2010, 5.9 percent of the labour force was employed in the environmental protection sector, rising to 6.4 percent in 2017 (total working population: around 44.3 million). UBA's President Dirk Messner said, "Environmental protection must not be allowed to fall by the wayside in the coronavirus crisis. It is important that all economic stimulus packages also take climate protection and sustainability into account. After all, green investments pay off twice over: they rebuild the economy and do something for environmental protection at the same time. It makes sense, for example, to invest in local public transport, electrify cars and renovate buildings sustainably. This is how new jobs with prospects for the future can be created after the coronavirus crisis that help us solve the climate crisis."

The overall record of employment growth in environmental protection is positive. The environmental services sector experienced particularly dynamic development, growing by a whole 2.9 percent between 2016 and 2017 (compared to 1.3 percent general growth in employment). With 1.5 million employees or 56 percent of all jobs in environmental protection, environmentally oriented services accounted for the largest share of environmental protection employment in 2017. This sector includes energy and building management, sales of organic products, marketing of electricity from renewable sources, organic farming and green financial services such as financial investments that take ecological and ethical aspects into consideration. 

An important factor for job creation in environmental protection are also energy efficiency upgrades for buildings. These measures already account for more than half a million jobs, if one includes indirect employment in upstream production areas, for example in the production of insulation material. The construction industry employs around 290,000 people working in the environmental protection sector, thus accounting for almost 12 percent of total employment in the industry. 

However, more than 30,000 jobs were lost between 2016 and 2017 in the renewable energies sector, 26,000 of which were in the wind energy sector alone. While job losses in the wind energy sector between 2016 and 2017 were mainly due to lower exports, further job losses are currently a threat due to a lack of investment in onshore wind energy. Official figures for the development of employment after 2017 are not yet available, but reports from the German Wind Energy Association estimate the loss of 40,000 jobs in the past three years. A loss of another 25,000 jobs is feared if the market continues to stagnate.

UBA's President Dirk Messner said: "If expansion continues to be sluggish, we will not only miss the target for expansion for renewable energies of 65 percent of electricity consumption in 2030, but also lose many more jobs. Instead of the necessary plants with capacities of 5 gigawatts per year, we only built 0.96 gigawatts in 2019. That's why we need a solution by the summer at the latest.

Further information

Information on the development of employment in environmental protection is updated and published every two years by the German Environment Agency. The data provided are taken from a recent study conducted by the German Institute for Economic Research (DIW) for the German Environment Agency. The calculations are partly based on data from official statistics, which are available and can only be evaluated with a time lag.

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