ENVIRONMENT
05/25/2016 04:43 pm ET

Here's More Proof That Saving The Climate Doesn't Have To Kill Jobs

The number of people working in renewable energy is on the rise.
Solar power jobs are increasing worldwide. Take these workers examining solar panels in Jiangsu Province, Chin
China Stringer Network/Reuters
Solar power jobs are increasing worldwide. Take these workers examining solar panels in Jiangsu Province, China.

Looking for work? You might consider solar farming.

The renewable energy industry is growing rapidly, according to a report out Wednesday from the International Renewable Energy Agency, an intergovernmental organization. The industry now employs 8.1 million people worldwide, up 5 percent from last year, the IRENA report says. Nearly 3 million people work in the solar sector alone -- an 11 percent jump from 2015.

At the same time, the fossil fuel sector continues to shed jobs, according to Adnan Z. Amin, the director general of IRENA.

“The continued job growth in the renewable energy sector is significant because it stands in contrast to trends across the energy sector,” Amin said in a statement on Wednesday

In the U.S., renewable energy jobs increased by 6 percent last year, while employment in the oil and gas industry declined by 18 percent, according to the report. Solar jobs grew by 22 percent, thanks in part to generous renewable energy tax credits, like the 30 percent credit on solar investments.

Overall, the solar industry in the U.S. has gone gangbusters in recent years. Due in part to the declining costs of solar energy, the improvements in battery storage and the closure of dozens of coal-fired power plants, the country now boasts around one million solar power installations. Industry leaders say that number could double within two years. 

Not everyone is happy about the growth of renewable energy, however. IRENA’s report comes just one week after several union representatives sent scathing letters to Richard Trumka, president of the AFL-CIO, the main umbrella organization for American unions. They upbraided him for working to bankroll Democratic campaigns with billionaire environmentalist Tom Steyer, whose Next Generation nonprofit promotes renewable energy technology.

The union reps' complaint? The rise of renewable energy options and efforts to combat climate change threaten the fossil fuel industry and thus the jobs of those it employs.

Indeed, opponents of renewable energy insist that transitioning away from fossil fuels will put Americans out of work. Denunciations of “job-killing” fossil fuel regulations and government support for renewable energy are particularly strident in states like West Virginia, where nearly 50,000 people work in the coal mining industry. 

But proponents of renewable energy insist that sector will make up for the jobs lost in the fossil fuel sector.

“Solar is bringing jobs, clean energy and economic activity,” Rhone Resch, president and CEO of the Solar Energy Industries Association, told reporters in a call this month. “By 2020, we expect more than 400,000 people employed in the solar industry.”

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