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Opinion article

A clean jobs plan can save the climate and our post-COVID economy

AlphaBeta Managing Director, Australia, Toby Brennan, and Engagement Manager, Sriram Srikumar, make the economic case for a green recovery from COVID-19 based on the modelling for the clean jobs plan that AlphaBeta has developed with the Climate Council. 

The COVID-19 pandemic has made it abundantly clear how combating the climate crisis and supporting economic growth depend on each other. The long-term economic benefits of climate action have been accepted for some time. Economic authorities such as the RBA, ASIC and APRA have all highlighted the importance of climate action to maintain economic stability. The pandemic has now tipped the short-term balance also.

COVID-19 has triggered the steepest rise in unemployment in Australia’s recorded history, destroying almost 850,000 jobs in the three months to June. Unemployment has reached a 22-year high of 7.4 per cent, and this rises to 13.3 per cent after accounting for the half-million Australians who have stopped looking for work entirely. State and federal governments have moved at once to arrest the economic decline, committing a total of about 3.5 per cent of GDP to COVID-19 stimulus and support packages. More government spending will likely be needed to avoid a longer recession.[1]

AlphaBeta Australia’s Clean Jobs Plan, developed with the Climate Council, identifies practical opportunities for Australia to respond to climate change and stimulate the post-COVID economy. We have proposed 12 policy opportunities that could directly create 76,000 jobs in three years. In addition to immediate job-creation, the Clean Jobs Plan will improve Australia’s long-term outlook by enabling clean energy and investing in the infrastructure, ecosystems, and skills we need to thrive in a low-emissions world.

Practical policies that deliver ‘bang for buck’


The Clean Jobs Plan was designed around three criteria: policies needed to create jobs at scale (high impact), create jobs rapidly (timely), and target people and communities most in need (targeted). As economists, we prioritised “bang for buck”, leveraging private investment opportunities and Australia’s existing capabilities in renewable energy, agriculture, construction, and professional services sectors. For example:

  • A $2.25 billion public investment in utility-scale renewable energy will attract three times as much private funding due to the relative maturity of the sector. In total, this policy is expected to employ 15,000 workers, including construction and utilities workers, engineers, and administrative workers in regional economies that may otherwise struggle to recover from the pandemic. This policy benefits Australia in the long run by setting up large-scale wind and solar generation facilities, battery storage and transmission upgrades needed for its transition to clean energy.
  • Organic waste management improvements could create 10,000 jobs for waste management workers, construction workers, administrative workers, and others across Australia. We propose governments allocate $0.6 billion to this policy, which could attract around twice as much again in private investment. Supporting the development of a waste processing industry in Australia will help reduce emissions from landfills while driving long-term innovation and employment.

On average, the Clean Jobs Plan could attract $1.10 in private funding for every public dollar spent. It would create 7.2 jobs per $1 million of public spending, which is about as efficient as global clean stimulus programs and significantly more efficient than previous Australian construction programs.

Together, the 12 policy opportunities require less than 0.5 per cent of GDP in public funding – a fraction of the COVID-19 stimulus that has already been announced. Some may say that enough stimulus has already been committed. For comparison, unemployment rose only half as quickly during the Global Financial Crisis of 2007-2008; Australia spent around two per cent of GDP on post-GFC stimulus and jobs still never completely recovered.

Jobs that are readily accessible by people who need them most


As illustrated by the above two policy examples, most work created by the Clean Jobs Plan will be in sectors hardest hit by the COVID-19 crisis: sectors like administration and construction that have collectively lost more than 80,000 jobs to date. Around 70 per cent of jobs will be created in those sectors, which in turn drive activity in manufacturing, retail, hospitality, and other industries.

New jobs also skew towards lower skilled opportunities that unemployed Australians can quickly access. One in three jobs will require minimal training. Jobs will be created across the country, with between 2.5 and four jobs created per 1000 residents in all states and territories, and across cities and regional areas.

An opportunity to rebuild a stronger, more resilient economy


Importantly, the Clean Jobs Plan is not a band-aid solution but an opportunity to reboot the economy.

As our colleague Dr Andrew Charlton wrote in the Australian Financial Review, the engine of our economy was rusty even before the COVID-19 crisis hit. Decades of partisanship and stalled reforms have left our economy falling behind on almost every objective measure. Productivity growth has fallen to half the long-term average, while workforce casualisation has left more than a tenth of workers seeking more employment. Australia ranks far below its peers for innovation and economic complexity, dampening its long-term competitiveness and resilience.

An effective stimulus program could improve Australia’s economic outlook by diversifying our industries and developing the technologies and skills we will need to succeed in a low-emissions world. Now is the time to rebuild. The Clean Jobs Plan begins that work – quickly, thoughtfully, and in a way that sets Australia up for a better, more resilient future.

[1] RBA (2020) ‘The Reserve Bank's Policy Actions and Balance Sheet’

About the authors
SS

Sriram Srikumar

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Sriram Srikumar is the Engagement Manager at AlphaBeta Australia. He has worked for public and private sector clients in policy design and transactional law. As a consultant at the World Bank’s Pacific office, he worked on projects in renewable energy, transport infrastructure and rural development. Sriram also worked on private equity and project finance transactions at the law firm Herbert Smith Freehills. 

TB

Toby Brennan

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Toby Brennan is the Managing Director of AlphaBeta in Australia, leading AlphaBeta’s Australian operations from the Sydney office. He is an experienced strategy consultant, working across both the public and private sectors to help clients understand new and emerging industries in cyber security, artificial intelligence and sustainability, and their implications for skills needs for Australia. He has also worked on the rollout of the NDIS, supporting the development of the disability support market.

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