The importance of diversity to human society is hard to overstate. An estimated 40 percent of the global economy is based on biological products and processes. Last January, speaking at the launch of the UN’s International Year of Biodiversity in Berlin, UNEP’s Executive Director, Achim Steiner, said that the words biodiversity and ecosystems might seem abstract and remote to many people, but there is nothing abstract about their role in economies and in the lives of billions of people.
New jobs are beginning to emerge in favor of greener, cleaner and more sustainable occupations. Green jobs are defined as work in agricultural, manufacturing, research and development (R&D), administrative and service activities that contribute substantially to preserving or restoring environmental quality. Specifically, but not exclusively, this includes jobs that help to protect ecosystems and biodiversity; reduce energy, materials, and water consumption through high efficiency.
In fact, if we think about it, there are many jobs linked to biodiversity conservation. Not only those related to nature or species (such as protected area wardens or forest rangers), but also those working in farming, forestry, fishing and tourism, provided those activities are carried out with biodiversity conservation in mind (e.g. organic farming or sustainable fishing).
Green jobs span a wide array of occupational profiles, of skills and of educational backgrounds. Some constitute entirely new types of jobs, but most build on traditional professions and occupations, albeit with more or less modified job contents and competencies.
Millions of green jobs already exist in industrialized countries, emerging economies and developing countries. In fact, according to The Economics of Ecosystems and Biodiversity one European job in every six is somehow dependent on the environment. In most developing countries, the link between ecosystems and jobs will be even stronger.
The results of the study "Green Jobs in Spain”, carried out by Fundación Biodiversidad in 2010, show that there are half a million green jobs and also, that a sixth of all green jobs in Spain are related to protected areas, sustainable forestry and organic farming.
© Fundacion Biodiversidad
The Spanish "bio” way of agriculture
Agriculture is still the single largest employer in the world, with 1.3 billion farmers and agricultural workers in total. Decades of neglect and deteriorating farm gate prices have led to unsustainable land-use practices and to poor jobs and low incomes. Organic farming employs a third more workers than traditional. So, if we take into account that organic farming is not only better for the environment, but also more labour intensive, it shows that there is considerable potential in this area.
Positive signs can be found in Spanish agriculture, where almost 50,000 jobs rely on organic farming which represent almost 10% of jobs in Spanish agriculture. The future should be brighter, because with 1.3 million hectares in 2008 and 33% growth with respect to 2007, the country is the most important European organic farming producer.
Businesses are well aware of this potential and the wine sector, emblematic in the Spanish culture and agriculture, is a key example.
The Iberian Peninsula counts among the most extensive area in Europe regarding organic vineyards. 90% of Spanish organic wine is exported and wine growers expect an increase of 10% in annual turnover this year.
Continuous growth and positive figures are encouraging many renowned traditional vine growers to expand their business into organic farming.
Castilla La Mancha, home of the famous Don Quijote, is also one of the regions leading the transition from traditional vineyards into organic. It is followed by La Rioja and El Penedés.
Not only wood
Forests play a major role in maintaining the world’s natural life-support systems. According to Jan Heino, Assistant Director-General at the Forestry Department of the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), investing in sustainable forestry could create 10 million green jobs worldwide. These are related to activities such as forest management, fire prevention, planting, restoration or silviculture.
The forestry sector is considered to be a significant source of wealth and employment. Sustainable forestry management and certification standards have been growing rapidly in the last few years and could become a source of long-term employment for rural economies.
In Spain, wood lands not only provide wood but also valuable products, such as mushrooms, truffles, biomass for energy use, Iberian pigs and cork.
A good example for a sustainable use of the forest are cork oaks. They are found in seven Mediterranean countries: Portugal, Spain, Algeria, Morocco, Italy, Tunisia and France. A total of 2.7 million hectares produce different products, 70% of which is cork for the bottling of wines, champagnes, cavas and ciders. In fact, every year 15,000 millions corks are produced and sold to the wine industry around the world.
More than 100,000 people in the Mediterranean rely directly or indirectly on the exploitation of cork oaks. Therefore, cork oak woods are highly valued ecosystems in terms of biodiversity, and they also provide income and jobs in rural areas.
Green jobs, green areas and green ways to sustainable development
Spain has 25% of its territory under the Natura 2000 Network. Tourism represents 11% of Spanish GDP and the country is the second top tourism destination in the world. EUROPARC, a Federation representing more than 440 protected areas, governmental departments, NGO’s and businesses in 36 countries, states that Spanish protected areas received 36 million annual visits. And this provides wealth to the communities in question.
A good example for this is what is happening in Andalusia where 25% of its rural population live in natural parks, and hence, benefit from this tourism. To stimulate business opportunities and green jobs, the Network of Andalusian Natural Parks has created its own brand, "Parque Natural de Andalucía”, comprising of almost 200 companies and 1,150 products.
With the increase of protected areas, Europarc forecasts that jobs will increase by 150% by 2013. This means a transition from 4,000 direct jobs today, to 10,000 green jobs in protected areas in the future.
Another interesting initiative are Vías Verdes (literally "green-ways”). They are old, unused railway lines that have been recovered and restored for use by walkers and cyclists. Exploring them is a different, enjoyable and environmentally friendly way of getting to know Spain its culture and its landscapes.
There are 1,700 kilometres of green ways all over Spain offering 70 different itineraries. These ways are revitalising areas of the country that have been depopulated during recent decades. Giving life to these rural areas means giving hope to deserted villages and hence, giving life to the ecosystems and landscapes surrounding them.
Green jobs are being boosted all over Spain by the Programa empleaverde, carried out by Fundación Biodiversidad. The Biodiversity Foundation is a public foundation, established in 1998 by the Spanish Ministry of the Environment, Rural and Marine Affairs. It is a non-profit foundation, carrying out activities of general interest in areas concerning nature conservation, study and sustainable use of biodiversity, as well as international cooperation for development.
In 2007, the Foundation launched its green jobs programme, Programa empleaverde. With a budget of euro 44.1 million its goals are to support more than 5,000 Small and Medium-sized Enterprises (SMEs) and to foster the creation of 1,000 new green SMEs and their related jobs.
Today, the Programme supports 80 projects with an investment of euro 26 million. More than 28,500 workers will benefit from training, and 850 enterprises will be created or reconverted.
A good example for a sustainable use of the forest are cork oaks. A total of 2.7 million hectares in seven Mediterranean countries produce different products.
by Sonia Castañeda, Director of the Internacional Department at The Biodiversity Foundation