The new ecology

My first article in Agenda Pública El País, where i write about the triangle ecology-energy-technology. Three topics united to lead the economy post-covid.

Ecology and employment are two terms that have traditionally gone their separate ways, but on this occasion they go hand in hand in what has come to be called green employment, called to be the driving force behind our industrial and economic recovery. The reason for this union is based on a new ecology, linked to technology and the energy transition.

An example of this is the appointment, a few days ago, of our Minister of Ecological Transition and Demographic Challenge, Teresa Ribera, as co-president of the International Advisory Council of the International Labour Organisation (ILO), which will promote the Climate Action for Employment initiative.

As European citizens, we are part of the common commitment to decarbonise our societies, having a zero carbon footprint by 2050. This means transforming the way we generate and consume the energy that drives us. The most drastic way to do this would be to stop consuming that energy: to turn off the lights at home, to stop driving cars, to stop transporting goods and food in trucks, to stop going on motor boats… in short, to go back several centuries. By our own human nature, this is not going to happen, because nobody wants to lose the standard of living acquired in modern society. It is understood that something like this would break the current economic system and lead us to disaster.

Therefore, the only way to decarbonise is to manage to maintain or improve what we have by doing things differently, and this has a name: technology. Which leads us to the following conclusion:

Ecological transition = Energy transition = Technology transition

In order for us to achieve our carbon-neutral goals by 2050, according to the International Renewable Energy Agency (Irena, see graph), 42 million jobs will be created worldwide. Few industries are so clear about their impact on the future.

We have the difficult task of understanding this process, and deciding to bet that part of this employment will be generated from Spain. According to the PNIEC (National Integrated Energy and Climate Plan), the forecast is for an increase in net employment of between 250,000 and 350,000 per year until 2030. This is why I find Joan Groizard’s speech from the Institute for Energy Diversification and Saving (Idae) so pertinent. He constantly repeats, at every public event, that the energy transition contributes to economic reactivation in the short, medium and long term.

In recent times, we have missed powerful industries that make us less dependent on the tourism and leisure sector. Let us therefore give strength to what we know will generate stable and continuous employment, such as renewable energies, storage or electric vehicles, contributing to leave a better planet.

Moreover, we are not new to it either; in the renewable industry we are already tremendously powerful. Being pioneers at the beginning of the century, with all the mistakes that this might entail, made us experts; and during more than a decade of national crisis, Spanish companies were leaders in markets as disparate as the British, American or Australian ones. Today, this knowledge and experience is once again being used in Spain, both in large installations and for self-consumption. If we are already a world reference in this expanding sector, where the majority of energy is still obtained from fossil sources, we can only bet on this winning horse. Training in this field means guaranteed employment for decades, both at home and abroad.

In Spain we are good at promoting, designing, building, installing, we have the flexibility that the industry requires, we even have manufacturers who are leaders in the technology that makes all this possible. This covers a great deal: jobs in design engineering, electronics, programming, mechanics, electricity, assembly, distributionall of which add enormous value to the jobs created, jobs of a high quality.

Sometimes we invest too much time in justifying ourselves and in internal struggles that only act as a brake. We have all the knowledge, know-how and a booming world market to exploit. I have no doubts about the gamble.

Something similar happens with the electric vehicle. Its establishment brings with it a large number of associated jobs, both in the manufacture of vehicles and in the manufacture and installation of the recharging network; not to mention the reuse and recovery of the batteries. The difference from the case of renewables is that we have spent so much time thinking about whether this was serious that we no longer have time to be pioneers, but it would be a success to get on the wagon that is already launched and take advantage of the wind in our favour.

Too many times we have heard that the Norwegian success in introducing the electric vehicle is not representative, that it cannot be applied in Spain (we are not Nordic, please! ). But neither are we German, nor are we British, countries where its introduction is beginning to take off. The former, European leaders in the European car industry, have reached 13.2% (6.4% pure and 6.8% hybrid) of the market share in August, with an accumulated 9.2% in 2020. The latter have come very close to reaching a 10% market share (6.4% pure and 3.3% hybrid) in the same reference month, with a cumulative market share of 8.2% for the year.

Some may still see these figures as small in a generally depressed car market, but the upward line is clear and, in a world moving at today’s technological speed, the goal of decarbonising road transport in three decades will be at least half as large.

In Spain we are constantly struggling with doubts, division and bureaucratic obstacles. This weighs us down and leads to much lower figures than our EU partners, with a 1.9% market share in pure electric cars.

It is true that we are not Nordic, nor German, nor British, but that does not mean that we cannot do things even better in our own way. Sooner or later, Spain will also launch, but if it’s late, we’ll do it with technologies developed by others. We must fight for them to be driven from here, whether it be through electricity or whatever else comes along in a solid and sustainable way (read green hydrogen).

Of course, we have more than enough talent to achieve the challenges we set ourselves. At the same time, we need to boost industries that will make us grow in the economic recovery. In 2050, 74% of energy in Spain alone has to be generated through renewables, and all electric vehicles are going to be renewed by new technologies. Betting on sectors that have guaranteed employment, and in which we are also tremendously good, cannot be a mistake.

Good luck to our minister in her journey at the ILO.

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