Climate Change Workforce Survey Forecasts Dot Com-Like Growth and Potential, Formidable Growing Pains

The measurement and verification of greenhouse gas emissions underpins any workable solution or enforceable treaty addressing climate change. Accomplishing that task requires a skilled and trustworthy workforce able to accommodate measure and verify emissions data and manage disclosure requirements for organizations ranging from small business to global corporations and governments. Without it, nothing worthwhile can be achieved toward any carbon reduction goal.

The Greenhouse Gas Management Institute has just released the results of their second annual GHG/Climate Change Workforce Needs Assessment survey. The survey report summarizes the responses to a 55-question survey from over 1000 GHG professionals from around the world that work everyday measuring and managing greenhouse gas emissions.

Building on the inaugural survey in 2009, the latest results show an emerging market in almost desperate need of trained workers but also a market that is still immature with many facilities unprepared for coming mandatory disclosure requirements and concerns of a public with little understanding of climate change.

Lack of public understanding of climate science

“As transformative climate policies are necessary to achieve the monumental task of decarbonizing the global economy, a supportive pubic is key,” the report says. “Yet, engaging and informing the body politic on an issue as complex as climate science has proven problematic.”

Facilities not prepared for mandatory reporting

Given the stalemate and general inability of Congress to pass substantive legislation addressing energy and carbon pricing, nearly all corporate climate risk disclosure policies in the United States have been on a voluntary basis, beyond the purview of government. For the past decade, the non-profit Carbon Disclosure Project has been the primary engine of voluntary disclosure for some 3000 organizations and corporations across the globe. In January the U.S. the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) issued “interpretive guidelines” for incorporating climate risk into public financial risk disclosure statement. While a step forward for corporate risk disclosure, such guidance still requires clarification from government, as the survey report states:

“Given the flexibility in legal interpretations of ‘material risk,’ the central concept driving risk disclosures of any nature, both the application of climate risk disclosures and the required precision of such reporting is, at this juncture, unclear, pending clarifying litigation.”

The first regulatory move at the federal level for mandatory emissions disclosure started earlier this year when the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) issued the Mandatory Reporting Rule (MRR)  requiring large facilities emitting 25,000 tons or more of greenhouse gases per year to submit annual reports on their emissions to the EPA. Characterized in the survey report as “an important and foundational program underpinning the data requirements of future U.S. climate programs,” the report cites more than three-quarters of survey respondents express concern that facility managers are “unprepared” to meet the reporting obligations under MRR. Nearly 12 percent of those marked their assessment  as “highly unprepared,” while only about 23 percent thought managers are “prepared” and a mere 1.9 percent citing facilities as “highly prepared.”

There is clearly a concern among practicing greenhouse gas managers that facilities now required to report under the EPA’s MRR are unprepared to meet those requirements, let alone more all-encompassing programs that will certainly come in the future.

Urgent need for trained workers to meet coming demand – certification is key

When thinking of “green jobs” many people think of working for solar or wind companies, or that working in the field of climate change is principally a pursuit for research scientists. The fact is that professional greenhouse gas management is an emerging field on the cusp of explosive growth.

“It’s similar, in some ways, to the dot-com boom,” Frank DeSafey of  Sequence Staffing recently told me in a phone interview. The field is ripe for new entrants, with opportunities for rapid advancement through the ranks (it currently can take only 5 to 7 years to become a senior level “expert”), though there are concerns with assessing competency and certification requirements amongst both GHG practitioners and employers.

“…practitioners cited challenges in showing or judging professional competence during the hiring process. Respondents also gave their perspective on the value that professional certification might provide in lowering these barriers.”

Nearly 86 percent of survey respondents felt a professional credentialing system is needed to make it easier for all parties to assess, verify, and “baseline” skills and competency.

“The boom days aren’t yet here,” says DeSafey, “but they’re coming.”  And we’re “not yet prepared” for when they do hit in the next few years.

Opportunity and challenge

Mandatory greenhouse gas emissions disclosure is a growing reality. Decarbonizing the economy demands skilled greenhouse gas managers to meet measurement and verification requirements. Meeting that demand presents enormous opportunity, where the need for workers is urgent, vast, and growing, and where advancement to leadership roles in an important field can be relatively swift.

With that opportunity comes significant challenges of training and certification standards, facility preparedness for coming disclosure requirements, and more thorough public education about climate science.

Clearly, as the Greenhouse Gas Management Institute Workforce survey has shown for two years that there is a workforce to build, standards to define, and a public to inform.

For DeSafey, whose company has staffed environmental workers for decades, there is a “groundswell of activity up and down the supply chain,” and reason to be optimistic that the challenge will be met.

Read more about the GHG & Climate Change Workforce Needs Assessment Report and get access to the full survey results.

Charts and graphs courtesy of the Greenhouse Gas Management Institute

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