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COP17 to bring challenges, but also green job opportunities

The upcoming climate talks in Durban will highlight the difficulties facing fossil fuel dependent, developing countries such as summit host South Africa, but responses to those difficulties will likely provide new green opportunities for companies and jobseekers.

According to Neil Morris, director of Climate Change and Sustainability Services at KPMG, Neil Morris, COP17 has greater potential to have practical outcomes than COP15 and COP16 combined.

When the world’s leaders meet at the end of the month for the seventeenth Conference of Parties (COP17) to continue global climate change negotiations, the South African government will face the challenge of addressing national priorities whilst interacting with the global nations – and being transparent, fair and equal within the negotiation process.

The host nation must grapple with socio-economic issues, such as an increasing divide between rich and poor, coupled with a growing demand for energy.

The government has given priority to developing the country’s ability to produce its own electricity, with a heavy emphasis on fossil fuels. South Africa is in fact the world’s 16th most electricity-intensive economy, which arises mostly as a result of 70 per cent of their primary energy and more than 90 per cent of their electricity coming from coal.  Now labelled as a country that places too much emphasis on fossil fuels, and as the host nation of COP17, South Africa will be in the spotlight.

The South African Government has made moves towards harnessing the potential for renewable energy and has signed a work plan with the International Energy Agency (IEA) that will see the country step closer to realising its objectives on cleaner energy. They have also recently announced a R150 billion, 5,000 megawatt (MW) solar park to be built in the Northern Cape. However, with the government’s objectives of 24 per cent emission reductions by 2020 and 42 per cent by 2025, it is questionable as to whether South Africa’s actions to mitigate climate change are sufficient.

After Kyoto

One of the big questions about the potential outcomes of COP17 is the future of the Kyoto Protocol. The Kyoto Protocol is the only legal framework that calls for emission cuts by developed countries, and its first commitment period expires in December 2012.  The agreement of a second phase of the treaty is seen as pivotal to the success of the Durban conference.

Alternatives include the establishment of the “Copenhagen Accord.” This is the Accord that was initiated at COP15 in Copenhagen and favoured by the United States, which supports a voluntary “pledge and review” system for all countries that are high emitters.  Or, a new comprehensive legally-binding framework could be enforced.  This is the favourite of the European Union and would engage all parties, and especially major economies, in taking on necessary commitments and actions.  This could actually be the best option: some say that Kyoto has failed to deliver, as evidenced by the U.S. refusal to ratify the agreement, in addition to the exclusion of some of the world’s biggest emitters - India and China.

So what recruitment trends could we see develop post COP17?

Overall, the message for corporations worldwide is that there are new green opportunities. These include leveraging green finance, investing in renewable energy and environmental design, combined with a new sustainable marketplace. Companies that integrate these opportunities into their strategies will obtain a competitive advantage and, according to Duane Newman, director of Sustainability and Climate Change at Deloitte: “Businesses that ignore environmental issues do so at their own peril”.

The experience of Allen & York, specialist International Sustainability Recruiters, is that there is currently significant job growth occurring within the sectors of renewable energy, energy and carbon management and water management.  As businesses learn more about the effects of climate change, there will be even more pressure on them to reduce and monitor their carbon emissions, to manage sustainable procurement and to invest in green energy sources.

Tiphaine Gallou, environmental recruitment consultant at Allen & York, is also seeing an increase in sustainability roles - specifically in South Africa, and within the disciplines of Geology, Hydrogeology, Environmental Consultancy and Health & Safety.

Research from Dent Associates, a business and science consultancy, shows that a company’s fixed assets, supply and distribution chains, operational concerns such as how employees get to work, energy use and efficiency, and of course insurance concerns, will all be affected by climate change. Forward-thinking businesses know they have to adapt to climate change now.

“COP17 will provide added impetus for organisations to create competitive green industries, local green collar jobs and embrace a low carbon culture.” - Irvan Damon, Ambassador for Sustainable Energy Society of Southern Africa

To harness these competitive advantages, companies need the support of qualified and skilled sustainability professionals throughout their organisations - from the Chief Sustainability Officer in the Boardroom to Health & Safety Managers and Renewable Energy Developers.

Procurement by corporations of renewable energy is likely to increase as more pressure is placed on reducing carbon emissions, whether it’s buying the power straight from the grid or through specialised utilities.  Purchasing Renewable Energy Credits (RECs) provides companies with a flexible tool that enables them to achieve green energy goals. Furthermore, the purchasing and trading of huge numbers of RECs by corporations enables the funding of future renewable energy projects. These actions by climate-aware companies create an increase in job roles throughout the whole renewable energy sector, from developers to procurement and trading professionals.

“New opportunities are emerging for low-carbon investment professionals in developing countries such as South Africa.  There is a signal of renewed confidence to investors in carbon markets.” - Neil Morris, Director of Climate Change and Sustainability Services at KPMG

Vicky Kenrick is an Advertising and Marketing Communications specialist for international sustainability recruitment consultancy, Allen & York.

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