Workers for the fossil fuel industry must not be forgotten in the shift to renewable energy, billionaire and climate activist Bill Gates has said.
The Microsoft co-founder and philanthropist said he was often asked: “What about the people who will lose jobs?” in the goal of moving towards a zero-carbon economy.
“It’s a great question. People are right to be concerned about it. Unfortunately, the way we talk about this issue can be polarising, and the arguments end up falling into one of two extreme camps,” he wrote in his latest blog post.
“The truth is, everyone has legitimate concerns here.”
It will be “gut-wrenching” for those whose jobs rely on fossil fuels, he added.
But he pointed out that there were various forces already at play that make for an “incredibly dynamic” economy.
“These changes aren’t just driven by clean energy—other factors like automation and robotics play an essential role too,” he said.
Meanwhile, the shift to clean energy will create jobs, many of which will allow fossil fuel industry workers to directly transfer their skills.
“For example, if green hydrogen fuels turn out to be a big business, we’ll still need pipelines and trucks to move them around—just as we move around oil and gas today. Mining skills could also be useful in sourcing minerals, like lithium and copper, that are used in the production of clean technologies and will be in increasingly high demand,” he added.
Construction and infrastructure jobs will also be needed to run wind and solar farms, modern power grids, electricity storage facilities, and more.
But Gates was also realistic about the fact that some new jobs would not be as good as others, and there may not be as many new jobs as jobs lost, with electric vehicles needing less maintenance than fuel-powered cars, for instance.
Much will depend on how much support the US Government is willing to give its workers, he said.
“Whether the shift to EVs ends up being good or bad for America’s automotive industry will depend on whether governments act now to encourage manufacturing—in existing and new plants alike—throughout the entire supply chain, from parts to assembly.”
To mitigate future disasters and job losses, governments should act now, invest in research and development funding, look to successful examples, and meet their targets and commitments, he said.
“Moving to a green economy is the biggest challenge the world has ever faced. I’m optimistic we can do it,” he said.
“But it needs to benefit everyone—including those workers and communities who depend on the fossil fuels that we need to get rid of.”
Gates has been a vocal supporter of climate action, and announced in March last year he was stepping down from the Microsoft board to spend more time on philanthropy and climate change initiatives.
He's described the issue of climate change and global warning as "worse" than the COVID-19 pandemic.