Ravi Kumar*, 37, had always imagined that he would work at the Bangarpet gold mines where his father had been employed all his life. But then the mine, in South Eastern Karnataka’s Kolar district, shut down in 2001, forcing him to seek employment in the state capital, Bengaluru, 80 km away.

Kumar is now a janitor at a Bengaluru hotel, doing the long commute six days a week. There are around 4,000 men and women like him travelling long distances from Bangarpet in search of employment.

Like many other towns in Karnataka, Bangarpet also faces an acute water shortage, unable to provide even 40 litres to 50 litres per person per day during summers, far lower than the 135 litres benchmarked by the Ministry of Housing and Urban Affairs.

Bangarpet’s story can be heard across many small towns in Karnataka. Unemployment and environmental degradation are together emerging as two huge problems in these towns, concluded a team of researchers from the Indian Institute for Human Settlements, Bengaluru. The team studied 12 urban local bodies in Karnataka – Bangarpet, Bidar, Chamrajnagar, Davanagere, Haliyal, Hubli-Dharwad, KR Nagar, Lingasugur, Sakleshpur, Sira, Ullal and Yadgir.

Several of these urban local bodies lack the resources, capacity and financial autonomy to improve their delivery of basic services, the study found. These towns also face severe environmental stresses such as flooding, landslides and coastal erosion. Together, financial unsustainability and environmental hazards are driving migration, while leading to poor quality of life and public health concerns, the study found.

Is it possible to address these twin problems together using an interconnected solution – the generation of green jobs? These are decent jobs, as classified by the International Labour Organisation, that also help preserve the environment. The jobs can come from both the traditional sectors such as manufacturing and construction as well as emerging green sectors such as renewables, water conservation, waste management and so on.

The Indian Institute for Human Settlements study estimated the number of green jobs that could be generated in a year in towns and cities of different sizes in a few core sectors such as renewable energy, waste management, green transport and urban farming. The estimate was based on the population of the town and an assumption of the percentage of people who are likely to adopt sustainable practices in each of the core sectors.

In all, the green sector in these 12 cities could generate up to 650 jobs in a town municipal council, 1,875 jobs in a city municipal council and 9,085 jobs in a municipal corporation, the authors estimated. Of these, 150-2,500 jobs could be generated in the renewable energy sector depending on the size of a town, 300-2,000 jobs in waste management, 20-125 in green transport and 80-1,700 in urban farming.

India’s shift to a green economy could add 3 million jobs in the renewable energy sector alone by 2030, estimated the International Labour Organisation. This sector created 47,000 new jobs in India in 2017, employing 432,000 people, as per a July 2018 IndiaSpend report. The number of jobs in India’s green energy sector, excluding large hydropower projects, rose by 12% in just one year to 2017.

Around 20% of the more than 500,000 new green jobs created globally in 2017 were in India, implying that more than 721,000 Indians were employed in the sector. Green jobs thus appear to be the way forward for a nation with a high demographic dividend, a high unemployment rate and a degrading environment.

About 24 million jobs could be created by transitioning to a circular economy, which includes activities such as recycling, repair, rent and remanufacture, and ecosystem services such as air and water purification, soil renewal and fertilisation, according to this 2018 study.

New skills

Around 55% of Karnataka’s population is in the age group of 20 years to 59 years, according to the 2011 Census. The expected incremental demand for people to work is 8.47 million skilled persons by 2022. Around 18.8 million people are estimated to require vocational education between 2017 and 2030. Of them, 7.5 million should come from the existing workforce and 11.3 million from a fresh pool. This population includes informal workers in the agriculture and non-agriculture sectors, school dropouts, those completing secondary and higher secondary education, and young women looking for work.

In the 12 cities visited by the Indian Institute for Human Settlements team, several of those unemployed were willing to work in the green sector if provided with appropriate skilling. Prabha* is one of them.

Prabha, a homemaker in her 30s, has recently moved into a resettlement colony in Haliyal from a slum and this has substantially improved her family’s quality of life. But she would like to work from home so that she can care for her children as well, she said.

Manjunath* and his wife live in one of the slums in Sira, around 100 km from Bengaluru. They are skilled masons but work long hours for low wages at construction sites. “We want to take up jobs that help us earn more money, but also improve our skills,” he said. “We are even ready to acquire new skills if necessary.”

Ramesh* from Bidar expressed willingness to work in the waste management sector if the pay were good, job safety could be ensured, and the overall welfare of his family was guaranteed.

In the coastal city of Ullal near Mangalore, many families live off foreign remittances from relatives working in West Asia. Those who are unable to migrate, like Firoze* who cares for an ailing father, cannot find local jobs. Like many others, he commutes to Mangalore, 20 km away, for jobs that offer meagre salaries. He too could be a candidate for a local green job.

How can the available manpower in these cities be leveraged while reducing environmental risks? In its search for an answer, the Indian Institute for Human Settlements divided the towns it studied into three categories depending on their population/size: Town municipal councils, city municipal councils and city corporations.

Here are its findings from four fields that can generate green jobs.

1. Renewables sector

India’s growing renewable energy sector is likely to generate more than 330,000 new jobs over the next few years, In 2017, the Ministry of New and Renewable Energy’s Solar Policy of Karnataka announced that it targets to add 6,000 megawatts by 2021, a target 4,000 megawatts more than the previous aim.

To make this transition feasible, more people are needed in this sector, in jobs such as rooftop solar power generation, manufacturing of solar panel modules, inverters and converters and end-use components for LED bulbs and energy-efficient pumps.

Adopting these environmentally sustainable practices can generate up to 150 jobs per year in a town municipal corporation, and 260 jobs in a city municipal corporation, according to the authors’ estimates.

2. Waste management

Green jobs can also be a way to address two critical issues that most towns and cities in India are facing – municipal solid waste management and wastewater management. At present in Karnataka, 68% of solid waste is estimated to be disposed of unsafely directly into the environment. Karnataka has very limited processing capacity to safely dispose of this waste.

Of the around 3,700 million litres of wastewater generated every day in the 219 urban local bodies in the state, only 1,300 million litres are treated. The rest is disposed into the environment without treatment, contaminating the surface and groundwater sources and leading to public health concerns.

Building and management of treatment plants – both sewage treatment plants for sewer waste and fecal sludge treatment Plants for non-sewer waste – can help dispose of these safely, while also generating jobs in these districts.

Solid waste too, is not managed efficiently in the state, and most of the 12 cities visited had dysfunctional centralised solid waste processing facilities. Solid waste management practices such as dry waste collection and micro-composting units could generate over 300 jobs per year in a city municipal corporation, the authors estimated.

Source: Authors’ estimates

3. Green transport

The transport sector is responsible for a lot of greenhouse gas emissions, using over a quarter of the world’s energy and almost an equal share of global carbon dioxide emissions. Central and state government policies are increasingly encouraging the introduction of non-motorised transport, electric vehicles and bio-CNG vehicles to counter this.

India’s National Electric Mobility Mission Plan 2020 has the potential to bring about a transformational shift in the automotive and transportation industry in the country if implemented well. In the recent Union budget, the central government reduced the GST for electric vehicles from 12% to 5% as an additional measure to promote electric vehicles.

Adoption of electric vehicles and green mobility, however, requires significant manpower, and this can generate up to 100 green jobs in the manufacture, service and maintenance of green mobility systems.

4. Urban farming

Urban forestry and roof-top gardening are rapidly becoming a trend in India’s cities and this can not only enable local production of vegetables but also help reduce the heat-island effect. These islands are created when human activities, such as the excessive use of concrete and asphalt in construction work, create urban pockets that are significantly warmer than surrounding rural areas. Such activities also create carbon sinks in urban areas which absorb carbon like a sponge.

An increase in urban farming practices can help generate jobs in permaculture, gardening and nursery management, and soil and nutrient supply. We found that cities could generate between 150 and 30 jobs depending on their size.

Driving forward

These sustainable practices are yet to create viable employment opportunities because of the lack of a skilled workforce, we found. While many policies acknowledge the need for sustainable practices, implementation has always been a challenge. An integrated approach which cuts across different sectors and government departments is required for urban job generation along with innovations in the design of these interventions itself.

In Karnataka, several state initiatives are being implemented by the Department of Skill Development and Entrepreneurship and Livelihood, focusing on skill development for jobs in industries such as automobiles, chemicals, construction and hardware. These initiatives need to be coordinated to generate green jobs.

The other key issue is funding and establishment of links with the private sector for corporate social responsibility funds and fellowship programmes for green jobs. This strategy can also create a platform for the employment of the new workforce created through green skilling.

The Skill Council for Green Jobs launched by the government is a national initiative that has designed courses in sectors such as renewable energy, green construction and solid waste management. The council also works closely with industries to ensure that the trained workforce is employed.

At the implementation level, several measures are needed, including suitable amendments to the Karnataka Skill Development Policy: 2017-2030 to create avenues for green jobs and increasing awareness about them. Officials, especially of the urban local bodies, need to be told about the possibility of generating green jobs that link to basic services provisions such as water supply, sanitation and electricity.

Finally, perceptions about green jobs need to be improved. Those that are associated with sectors such as waste management and sanitation, for example, have a negative perception in society and might not align with the aspirations of job seekers. One way to overcome these could be through the introduction of value-added training in addition to skill-building. English language training, communication skills, computer literacy including for the children of trainees, accounting and book-keeping could be added to the modules to meet the aspirations of applicants.

*Interviewees’ names have been changed to protect their privacy.

Shobha Ananda Reddy and Pooja Vincia D’souza are faculty at the Urban Practitioners Programme, Indian Institute for Human Settlements, Bengaluru.

This article first appeared on IndiaSpend, a data-driven and public-interest journalism non-profit.