Unlocking Urban Green Jobs

Aarti Nain, Sarika Chakravorty

Indian cities generate 60% of the national gross domestic product¹. They serve as catalysts for research and development and act as incubators and absorbers of new technologies. In the process, they create millions of jobs and drive both local and national economies. The role of cities in India’s socio-economic growth will hold greater significance as the country becomes more urbanized. By 2050, nearly 60% of the Indian population will live and work in urban areas, compared to the current 33%.

By 2047, 35 million green jobs can be created in India. Green building construction, waste management (including e-waste, solid waste, and wastewater management), electric vehicles, and renewables will drive the growth of these jobs. Most of these jobs are expected to be concentrated in urban areas. The International Labour Organization predicts that there will be more than 50 million green jobs between 2020 and 2030, with a focus on the same sectors: nearly 5 million in renewable energy, 11 million in construction, 7.5 million in green transport, and 39 million in waste management during this period². Recent trends confirm this potential, with Indian metropolises leading the way in hiring for green jobs. Job postings have increased by nearly 300% in Delhi and the National Capital Region, by 200% in Mumbai, and by 175% 3 in Bengaluru.

Urban green jobs will also contribute to achieving sustainable development goals and national objectives, such as reaching net-zero emissions by 2070. Green technologies have the potential not only to boost local economies but also to enhance urban livability by addressing urban issues like air pollution, water scarcity, and inadequate waste collection and recycling.

Demand for Urban Green Job Creation “While cities add substantially to the national economy, their powers to influence or design economic policies supportive of green jobs are restricted. However, they can use their powers of controlling land use, designing urban transport, managing waste, and regulating building construction practices to drive local green job growth. To unfold jobs through these sectors, it is necessary to first frame policies and targets that trigger a switch to e-mobility, distributed clean energy generation, green buildings, efficient water management, and circular economy norms. Climate action plans, resiliency strategies, bylaws, green building codes, and master plans are some of the policy instruments for introducing local growth in these sectors and subsequently jobs.
Integrating heat-resilient buildings as a strategy in heat action plans, recommended by the National Disaster Management Authority, can also unlock green construction and employment.

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The construction sector presents a strong opportunity as 50% of the required building floor space in India is yet to be built. Cities can amend their local bylaws to incorporate national energy codes such as the Energy Conservation Building Code and EcoNiwas Samhita for both new construction and retrofitting existing buildings. Green building rating systems such as IGBC, GRIHA, EDGE, or LEED have already been adopted by some cities with positive results. Urban local bodies (ULBs) can also customize green building requirements to suit their capacity and ambitions. Within the green construction sector, climate- friendly cooling, sustainable construction materials, and artificial intelligence-enabled monitoring and control technologies have high potential.

Urban transport policies focused on demarcating green mobility corridors, incentivizing public and private e-vehicles, committing to clean public and shared transport, and establishing an extensive charging infrastructure will encourage both supply and demand for e-vehicles. E-waste and wastewater management are the fastest-growing segments in waste. The volume of urban waste in India will grow by 4% annually as urbanization increases. Only about 30% of urban waste is treated in India currently, leaving massive scope for action in this sector. Wastewater management is expected to grow with a CAGR of 13%. Cities must enforce national or state e-waste management rules, develop collection and recycling facilities, enhance collection infrastructure, and commit to zero waste targets to maximize employment options in sustainable waste management. Reforestation and wetland conservation as measures for flood management are also strong job generators. Similarly, net-zero emissions targets for public buildings and large electricity consumers, as well as incentives for distributed renewable energy generation in
low-income communities, can be an impetus for jobs.

Sustaining Green Jobs through Reliable Urban Infrastructure

Secondly, cities must prepare to sustain green jobs. Business-friendly practices such as simplified taxation, ease of land supply, a single window for approvals, and time-bound clearances, along with intelligent market strategies, undoubtedly increase investor confidence. However, research also underscores the importance of providing adequate affordable housing, reliable urban transport, access to utilities, and good governance to attract businesses and skilled labor to cities.

Unfortunately, Indian cities lag in delivering such services and assets. Speculation-driven land prices are forcing blue-collar workers to the peripheries in search of quality and affordable housing. Longer commutes in poorly connected and aging public transport systems reduce productivity, increase costs, harm health, and are often less safe. Integrated spatial planning of cities must be considered to bring workers, especially blue-collar workers, closer to their workplaces. Urban planners must assess options for regenerating city cores and designing around compact, mixed land use to reduce distances between commercial centers and other necessary infrastructure. Planning and investment in shared transport, non-motorized transport, and transport-oriented development must be expedited. Urban planners should also make provisions for integrating renewable energy systems, green buildings, and waste and water management infrastructure. Paris serves as a promising example to emulate, with its “15-minute city” strategy aiming to place work, shopping, healthcare, and recreation within a 15-minute walking distance for all citizens. The city relies on mixed-use planning and non-motorized and public transport infrastructure to reduce distances⁴.

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Lastly, government schemes incentivizing local manufacturing can be harnessed to build hubs for manufacturing and servicing e-vehicles, green consumer appliances, and other green technologies. Initiatives like AMRUT, Swachh Bharat Mission, Namami Gange, Jal Jeevan Mission, Smart Cities Mission, and equivalent state schemes serve as levers to initiate investments and projects in high- growth sectors. Partnerships with national and state-level skill development institutions, as well as local industries or businesses, must also be forged to prepare the future workforce and reap immediate dividends from these jobs.

Indian cities have the potential to lead a just transition through safe and well-paying green jobs, especially for the millions of workers in the urban informal economy. This opportunity must be fully exploited.

Views expressed by Aarti Nain, Advisor, National Institute of Urban Affairs and Sarika Chakravorty, Team Lead, National Institute of Urban Affairs