Worldwatch Report #185: Green Economy and Green Jobs in China: Current Status and Potentials for 2020

Green Economy and Green Jobs in China

Authors:  Dr. Jihua Pan, Haibing Ma, and Dr. Ying Zhang

ISBN:  978-0-9835437-0-1
Publication Date:  July 2011
36 pages


Over the past decade, and especially during the 11th Five-Year period of 2006–10, China has priori-tized green development in almost all of its leading economic sectors. One of the greatest promises of China’s green transition is the potential for expanded employment in industries and economic sectors that can help slow and possibly reduce the country’s environmental impact. This report explores greening activities in three leading sectors of China’s economy: energy, transportation, and forestry. In doing so, it aims to shed light on the current scale of investment and employment in these sectors and to offer estimates of potentials for 2020.

China’s energy sector is heavily dependent on coal. Increasing the share of renewable energy in the country’s energy mix would contribute significantly to reducing emissions and play a vital role in greening the energy supply. This report focuses on economic and employment prospects in three renewable energy sectors that are advancing rapidly in China: solar hot water, solar photovoltaics (PV), and wind power.

During the 11th Five-Year Period (2006–10), China’s solar PV power sector generated some 2,700 direct jobs and 6,500 indirect jobs annually, on average. This is projected to increase to an average of 6,680 direct jobs and 16,370 indirect jobs annually between 2011 and 2020. Given the rapid growth in China’s solar industry and potential upward revisions in government projections, these estimates for future green jobs could increase considerably in the coming years.

China’s wind power industry—both the power generation and turbine manufacturing sectors—created an average of 40,000 direct green jobs annually between 2006 and 2010. Even factoring in increased productivity, China’s wind power development between 2011 and 2020 is projected to generate some 34,000 green jobs annually on average.

Formerly the “kingdom of bicycles,” China is expected to add as many as 220 million new ve-hicles between now and 2020. This report focuses on economic and employment prospects in three green transportation subsectors: China’s alternative-fuel vehicle industry (the development of hybrid cars and electric cars), the high-speed rail sector, and urban rail in Beijing.

Despite its relative newness, the Chinese market for alternatively fueled vehicles is expanding ra-pidly. By mid-2010, China was home to some 5,000 such vehicles, with a combined distance of just over 81 million kilometers traveled. If the government continues to prioritize the development of hybrid and electric vehicles during the 2011–20 period, cumulative production could reach 16.7 million, or an average of 1.67 million vehicles annually. This would lead to the creation of roughly 1.2 million green jobs annually in this sector, on average.

Already a world leader in high-speed rail (HSR) development, China aims to have 18,000 kilome-ters of HSR by 2020, which would create an average of 230,000 direct and 400,000 indirect jobs annually during the 2011–20 period, or a total of 630,000 jobs annually.

As one of the most populated cities in the world and still growing, Beijing’s municipal government has stepped up its urban rail ambitions in recent years. Its current targets include completion of 660 kilometers of lines by 2015 (at a total investment of $77 billion) and construction of another 340 kilometers of lines during 2016–20 (at a total investment of $69 billion). This could bring more than 437,000 jobs each year by 2020.

On the forest resources front, China’s forests are home to more than 1,800 species of wild ani-mals, more than 2,000 tree species, and more than 6,000 species of bushes, hundreds of which are found only in China. Nourishing these forested areas is vital for sustaining the country’s green tran-sition. This report focuses on economic and employment prospects in three non-timber forestry subsectors: forestation, forest management, and forest tourism.

Although China does not have abundant forest resources, government-led forestation efforts have led to an impressive expansion in nationwide forest cover. Based on our estimation, the fore-station sector employed as many as 1.8 million full-time workers in 2010 alone, or an average of 1.6 million workers annually during the 2005–10 period. To achieve its 2020 goals, China’s forestation activities could offer as many as 1.1 million direct and indirect jobs annually during 2011–20. Managing the newly added forest area during this period would bring another 1 million jobs.

China also has great potential to expand its niche sector of forest park tourism, as the country is home to more than 2,000 forest parks nationwide. We estimate that by 2020, this relatively new green sector could provide 392,000 direct jobs and 607,000 indirect jobs, or nearly 1 million green jobs in total.

Due to the different methodologies used to derive green jobs estimates in this report, it may not be appropriate to simply add these estimates together to derive an overall green jobs figure for China. It can be stated with confidence, however, that the three sectors highlighted in the report—energy, transportation, and forestry—could provide at least 4.5 million green jobs in 2020. If these sectors continue their rapid expansion, and if similar estimates could be obtained for other emerging green sectors in China, it would be clear that the economy-wide potential for green jobs is enormous.

China has established a long-term green vision and will almost certainly meet or surpass its ambitious green economy goals. Yet vision alone is not enough; attention also needs to be paid to the actual steps being taken to achieve those goals. One of the greatest lessons to be learned from the early days of China’s green transition is that building a sustainable future requires using approaches and processes that are sustainable in practice as well. To achieve that goal, the Chinese government needs to enhance its administrative efficiency and to adopt new market-based approaches to create a supportive yet stable environment for nourishing the green economy.

This report represents the most thorough effort known to date to explore China’s green economy and green jobs potentials. In the future, the availability of more comprehensive and more reliable data will allow for an expansion and deepening of this effort, enabling Chinese policymakers and other stakeholders to better understand the options that are available to them in pursuing an effec-tive green transition.

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