India needs to create jobs, and they have to be green

As the government works on job creation, an important focus will be to create new jobs that are climate- and sustainability-focused, and upskill the existing workforce to keep up with the country's ambitious green transition goals.

Rathish Balakrishnan, co-founder of social impact consultancy Sattva, believes that green jobs in India should also focus on the informal sector Image: Selvaprakash Lakshmanan for Forbes India

ne of the biggest economic challenges for the Narendra Modi-led National Democratic Alliance (NDA) government, which was voted to power on June 4, is unemployment. And given India’s global commitments to a green transition over the next few years, these jobs will need to have a climate and sustainability lens.

In the 2014 elections, Modi had come to power on the promise of creating millions of jobs for the country’s youngsters. In the years that followed, while India has grown at a faster pace among major peers, the economy failed to generate enough jobs.

As the government works on job creation, an important focus will be to create new jobs that are climate- and sustainability-focused, and upskill the existing workforce to keep up with the country’s ambitious green transition goals.

At the 26th Conference of Parties (CoP26) in Glasgow in 2021, the prime minister had announced that India will achieve net-zero emissions by 2070. He also said that 50 percent of India’s energy demand will be met by renewables by 2030 and non-fossil energy capacity will be raised to 500 gigawatts. India has also committed to reduce 1 billion tonnes of projected emissions from now till 2030, and achieving carbon intensity reduction of over 45 percent over 2005 levels.

Decarbonisation of India by 2070 can potentially provide up to $15 trillion in economic opportunities and up to 50 million net new jobs, as per an October 2023 Green Industry Outlook report by TeamLease Digital. The estimations are based on five sectors: Energy, mobility, industry, green buildings and agriculture, along with cross-sector enablers like innovation in green technology, green finance, carbon sequestration and climate adaptation.

The report adds that by 2047, India has the potential to create 35 million green jobs, up from 18.52 million at present. The gig economy is also expected to create around 7 million jobs by 2030, showcasing a compound annual growth rate of 13.2 percent.

In India, where almost 80-85 percent of the workforce is engaged in the informal sector with low or semi-skilled work, it is important to approach green jobs differently than how it is done in the West, says Rathish Balakrishnan, co-founder of Sattva, a social impact consulting firm working with businesses, government and communities.

He divides India’s job market into two overarching categories, the skilled market and low/unskilled/semi-skilled market.

Even if only the large and listed corporations move the needle on sustainability through their ESG (environment, social, governance) mandates, the number of skilled jobs generated, and the impact they create, will be far higher than most global averages, Balakrishnan says. “But if you look at the size of India, it’ll still be just 20 percent.”

A May 2023 report by Sattva and the Skills Council for Green Jobs, supported by JP Morgan, said that India’s working-age population as a share of the total population is expected to reach its highest level of 69 percent by 2030. “Our demographic dividend, and jobs being the most significant political mandate of the country, will set the tone of our discussions on what kind of green jobs India should create going forward,” says Balakrishnan.  

At the heart of such jobs in the informal sector is Just Transition, which means building climate-conscious careers and economic growth in a manner that no one is left behind. For example, a lot of MSMEs like repair shops and service centres support the traditional internal combustion engine (ICE) ecosystem in the automotive industry.

As the government and auto companies push electric vehicles (EV), there needs to be a clear roadmap for how the people engaged in these support services will be relevant in the EV landscape.


Building the Foundation

India has had a particularly harsh summer, with heatwaves affecting multiple regions of the country, while some regions face other kinds of extreme events like floods. People are aware of how the climate crisis is affecting their lives, and many are keen to work in this space. But there is low awareness about the exact career pathways that they should follow, not to mention the gaps in demand for such jobs and the supply (see box).

Somnath Baidya Roy, head of the Centre for Atmospheric Sciences at the Indian Institute of Technology (IIT)-Delhi, says when he pursued his master’s in environmental sciences in the 90s, it was an amorphous, abstract discipline. The situation is different today, he says, but we still aren’t there yet when it comes to academic training in climate and sustainability-related disciplines. “For example, in the US, there are more than 100 undergraduate degree programmes in atmospheric oceanic sciences, and demand for meteorology-related jobs is almost comparable to those available for engineers. India is not there yet,” he says. 

As India makes its green transition and companies adopt sustainability more aggressively, some of the jobs in demand will be climate finance-related disciplines, carbon budgeting, climate risk insurance, engineering roles, consulting and policy advisory.

Roy says a number of his students are also pursuing a career in weather forecasting for renewable energy. “India has the fastest growing renewables capacity in the world and is the fourth-biggest right now. We will need experts to forecast and manage intermittency in solar, wind and other renewable energy.”

The government is at the centre of green jobs creation in India. A number of states have been coming out with their climate action plans, where they often engage experts and consultants. As per the TeamLease Digital report referenced above, future drivers for green jobs will be centred around public policy initiatives like the National Green Hydrogen Mission, Biofuels Waste to Wealth, e-waste management, and production-linked incentives (PLI) for high-efficiency solar PV modules. 

There is limited technical capacity to understand the multiple dimensions of expertise required for such [climate-related] initiatives and programmes, which is why we have not been able to create those jobs and hire for them, says Madhav Pai, CEO of the climate think-tank WRI India. “Only 10 percent of the demand potential is met as of today,” he adds.

Government programmes do not separate project preparation and project finance phases. This needs to be done, Pai explains. This will help experts with sufficient time and space to plan and design these projects. There is always a hurry for getting to implementation. “We need to provide more money, time and space for project preparation and planning,” he says. “If we do this systematically, over the next three to five years, we can build a lot of expertise and spur job creation.”

Due to the limited scope to build lucrative careers in India, a lot of people are getting initial work experience here and then going abroad to pursue advanced degrees or jobs, says Roy, who is also the Rockefeller Foundation Chair for Climate Sciences and Technology at IIT-Delhi.

According to him, in many universities, the curriculum is theory-oriented and does not bridge the education and skill gap. “Placements too are often restricted to top-tier engineering colleges, but a lot of good talent is pursuing sustainability and climate from traditional colleges or universities that do not have strong placement programmes,” he says.

Unlike the West, climate and sustainability are still not a priority agenda in India, Roy says, which also reflects in lower rate of innovation in the industry. “At some point, the industry will have to start taking risks and do innovative things. This could range from different ways to reduce fossil fuel emissions or technologies for carbon capture,” he says. “There are no precedents for this in India. While universities can train people in climate science, the industry needs to do its bit of providing jobs and opportunities to use that training.” 


The Skilled Workforce

While the formal sector is smaller in size, it accounts for over 50 percent of India’s gross domestic product (GDP). The transition of this sector, led by large corporations, is, therefore, crucial. At the moment, the share of climate and sustainability professionals is small, but growing. “Employers are actively seeking individuals who can drive ESG initiatives forward, bringing a combination of technical expertise, strategic vision, and a passion for sustainability,” says Sashi Kumar, head of sales at Indeed India.

As per Indeed data, between April 2023 and April 2024, ESG job postings decreased by 9 percent, but job seeker interest saw an increase of 20 percent. Top roles that organisations are currently hiring for include ESG and data analysts, deputy managers, engineers, developers, project managers, and environmental managers. 

On the technical side, sustainability professionals need knowledge of environmental science, sustainable practices, carbon accounting, data analysis, and regulatory frameworks, says Thakur Pherwani, head of sustainability at TVS Motor Company. Non-technical skills include strong communication, collaboration, stakeholder engagement, project management, and strategic/analytical thinking abilities. “This blend of skills allows them to effectively address sustainability challenges and drive impactful initiatives within organisations,” he says.

Staffing specialist Kamal Karanth, co-founder of Xpheno, says demand for sustainability-related jobs is mainly coming from multinational companies, consulting and real estate firms. The talent, right now, is only coming from metros—Delhi, Mumbai and Bengaluru—followed by a small fraction in Pune and Chennai.

“There is a huge mismatch of talent and opportunities in India versus countries like the UK, US and Germany,” he says, “Right now, many companies are still stuck in compliance mode. They will slowly, but surely, realise the value in going beyond.” According to him, companies will go the extra mile either due to a strong regulatory push (like the GST, for example), or there will be a more gradual change (like in the case of companies and the diversity, equity, inclusion mandate).

For example, at Godrej and Boyce to make ESG more central to business, there are revenue-based targets. “At least one-third of our portfolio revenue generation should come from products that are green and good,” says Tejashree Joshi, head of environmental sustainability.

She explains that while the company started its ESG efforts a decade ago, focusing on operational efficiencies and social welfare, their strategy for the next decade involves going beyond their own footprint to focus on sustainability of the entire value chain. “We want to improve energy productivity by 60 percent and water efficiency by 25 percent over the initial decade of 40 percent improvement,” she says. “We are also taking a circularity approach in using our resources, looking at a product from the design stage to the end of its lifecycle to enhance upcycling.” 

The demand for climate and sustainability jobs will continue to grow exponentially, believes Pherwani. The factors driving this demand, according to him, will be increasing pressure from investors, consumers and regulators to address climate change and environmental degradation, and the growing recognition of the economic benefits of sustainability, such as cost savings, risk reduction, and enhanced brand reputation.


This article was originally published in Forbes India


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