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Decent Green Jobs in the Forest Sector in a Green Economy

Forests have always contributed to the well-being of humans in many parts of the world. Approximately one billion people on the planet depend on forests for income and employment. In the UNECE region, which includes North America, Europe, Russia and Central Asia, the forest sector has great potential to contribute significantly to a green economy. This is because the forest sector is based “on a renewable raw material, wood, processed in a way that causes little waste, and is frequently recovered and recycled after use” (Prins, 2016).

The Rovaniemi Action Plan for the Forest Sector in a Green Economy outlines the pathway for the forest sector into a green economy. This pathway is supported by four different pillars: sustainable, production and consumption of forest products, the low carbon forest sector, long term provision of forest ecosystem services and finally decent green jobs in the forest sector.

There is no universally accepted definition of green jobs, however, Kastenholz (2014) describes green jobs as work in a green economy as follows:

“Contributes to positive environmental products and production processes. It is work in processes which contribute to saving energy, protecting the environment, producing goods and services which result in positive environmental benefits; and it is also work which is assigned to making economic units more environmental friendly, e.g. by a more efficient use of resources particularly energy”.

Generally, green jobs in forestry can be considered as jobs which contribute to Sustainable Forest Management (SFM). The International Labour Organization (ILO) and other actors have emphasized that green jobs should also be decent, as a green economy aims at protecting the environment and eradicating poverty at the same time. Thus, green and decent jobs should not be mutually exclusive but mutually supportive. According to the ILO, “decent work is defined as opportunities for women and men to obtain decent and productive work, in conditions of freedom, equity, security and human dignity” (UNEP/ILO/IOE/ITUC 2008).

Development of Criteria and Indicators in the Forest Sector Workforce

There have been different methods developed to assess green economies (for further information Prins 2016), assessment of green jobs is less clear. There is a need for comprehensive data in order to better assess the green jobs in the sector.  Kastenholz (2014) suggests assessing employment and safety rates, working conditions, income rates, gender equality, fostering entrepreneurship, training, family and social values (e.g., family time, and free time), social protection and social dialogue (e.g. the portion of workers who are associated in trade unions). A start to this work has been initiated by the ILO/UNECE/FAO Joint Network on Green Jobs and will be released in spring 2017.

Trends in the Forest Sector Workforce

The forest sector workforce is confronted with many challenges. The increase in productivity and the development of new technologies, climate change impacts, globalization, competition from imports rural depopulation are all phenomena that have impacts on employment (Kastenholz, 2015). In 2010 around 4,7 million people in the UNECE region worked in the forest sector, compared to 6,1 million in 2000. This means a decrease of jobs by 23 percent. It is likely that this trend will continue, especially in areas where outmoded production technology is still widely used and likely replaced in the near future (UNECE/FAO 2015). 

This trend goes along with economic changes in the sector. The production of some traditional forest products has started to decline in Europe. However, this challenge can also be an important driver for innovation and growth. “Many new opportunities have emerged for the European forest-based sector in the past decade. The forest sector is changing strategies and business models, and investing in new products, such as second and third generation biofuels, biochemical and engineered wood products (Hetemäki, 2014, p. 96). In addition, traditional wood products such as sawnwood are being used innovatively to produce cross-laminated timber (a panelized system of wooden construction that amongst other things can be used to make tall wood buildings). These materials have a high potential in the future, if policies that facilitate the use of wood in construction are adopted. Wooden buildings could play an important part in a green economy as wood has a significantly lower carbon footprint (both in the than other building materials such as concrete and steel.

Furthermore, the service sector (which provides the majority of jobs within the UNECE region) will play a more and more important role for future jobs in the forest sector. (Hetemäki, 2014). There is a growing importance and demand for the benefits provided by forests and trees in the context of human health, recreation and urban forestry. EU Employment in the “Environmental goods and service sectors” increased from 3 to 4.2 million between 2002 and 2011 (Herkendell 2016). Identifying new fields of employment, education and training for traditional and new jobs within the forest sector is the priority work of the UNECE/FAO/ILO Team of Specialists on Green Jobs in the Forest Sector. 


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