Is climate policy a constraint or an opportunity for job creation?

  1. Context

Do climate policies represent a constraint or an opportunity for job creation and employment growth? Two theses are recurrently put forward in the political debate. The first emphasizes the cost increase, especially the pass-through on energy prices for polluting industries, which would threaten international competitiveness and thus employment. The other stresses positive long-term effects that, besides reducing emissions, will boost innovation and thus long-term competitiveness.

A rigorous evaluation of climate policies, such as carbon taxes, must of course account for the expected decrease in pollutant emissions and energy consumption. However, to be complete, this evaluation must study broader indirect effects on industrial competitiveness and employment – the very ones that are likely to have a primary impact on the well-being of people involved in carbon intensive productions (Smith, 2015).

The concern of an immediate loss of competitiveness is felt particularly in France. This concern comes first and foremost from the fact that the recent Energy Transition Law caused a strong increase in the carbon tax (€ 22 in 2016, € 56 in 2020, € 100 in 2030). This is the argument that industrial lobbies claim to curb overly ambitious environmental policies, especially in a context of non-binding international agreements, such as those initiated by COP21. Also, unions are worried that unilateral policy may lead to the relocation of more polluting activities and thus jobs to countries that implement a less ambitious carbon pricing schedule, or an opportunistic strategy of non-intervention. The main argument of the US administration against international agreements on climate change has always been that, in absence of a well-designed enforcement mechanism, ‘carbon leakage’ —a lose-lose outcome in terms of job losses and higher emissions—becomes a real possibility. For instance, a border carbon tax adjustment has been proposed as an amendment to the World Trade Organization rules to make the enforcement of international agreements on climate change credible.

An alternative view on the effect of climate policies emphasizes the positive consequences for innovation and the creation of a comparative advantage in new sectors where demand is expected to increase rapidly. These green innovative activities would use relatively more skilled labor than polluting activities, and this could have a large multiplier effect on employment for local communities. To turn climate policies into an opportunity, governments could also consider using the revenues from the carbon tax to reduce the tax burden on labor. A drop in taxation on labor could lead to a substitution effect leading to net job creation.

The purpose of this policy brief is to provide a preliminary empirical answer to the question of whether climate policies are an impediment or, on the contrary, an opportunity for employment growth. In doing so, we compare the performance of France, a country for which we have detailed micro-data to test the effects of climate policies, with those of its main economic partners, Spain, Italy and especially Germany.


  1. Employment dynamics and energy prices in energy-intensive industries

With regards to the situation of France compared with that of the three major European countries, Germany, Spain and Italy, it is first necessary to look at the extent to which climate policies have changed in these four countries.

Admittedly, climate policies are multidimensional and therefore their effective stringency is difficult to compare. However, it is possible to use differences in energy prices for gas and electricity (the two main energy sources for these four countries) to proxy the effect of carbon pricing. Indeed, while the European Emission Trading System (EU ETS) sets, in principle, a single carbon price, national-level instruments have been introduced to subsidize renewable energies in all four countries. This has thus created a certain heterogeneity in policy stringency across these countries. In France, for example, the Social Contribution of Electricity Generation (CSPE) was introduced to finance EDF’s purchases of electricity produced with renewable energies. The impact of the CSPE has increased over time in a very clear way: 0.003 euro per kw/h in 2003, or 5% of the price of electricity for a medium-sized industrial consumer in 2003, compared with 0.019 euro per kw/h in 2015, or 31.6% of the price of electricity for a medium-sized industrial consumer in 2015.

Let’s first look at the evolution of electricity prices (Figure 1) and gas prices (Figure 2) for an average industrial consumer, in the four countries, between 2000 and 2015.[1] In all countries both prices are rising sharply. In France, the price of electricity increases slightly less than in other countries and the price level remains below the average price in other countries. Since the gas market is global, the price variation across countries is much lower than in the case of electricity. There is therefore a stronger tendency for price convergence for gas than for electricity. It should also be noted that the impact of the price of natural gas (and the highly correlated oil price) is much higher in Italy, Germany and Spain than in France, where electricity is produced mainly by means of nuclear power. Thus, France’s effective exposure to energy price shocks, either because of climate policies or because of rising gas and oil prices, is lower than in the other three countries.

Now let’s look at how employment has evolved in the industries most exposed to rising energy prices. Using the average energy intensity across countries, we define two groups of industries: one with high exposure and the other with medium exposure to price changes.[2] Since in France the price of energy has increased relatively less than in other countries, a smaller impact on employment should be expected. Figure 3 and 4 show exactly the opposite for the period 2000-2011. In fact, while employment in polluting sectors declined in all four countries, the decline is more pronounced in France than in Italy and Germany. Moreover, the level of activity in highly polluting sectors (Figure 3) and moderately polluting (Figure 4) is significantly lower in France (7% of total employment in 2011) than in Italy (13.1 % of total employment in 2011) or in Germany (10% of total employment in 2011). Obviously, these are only correlations and such a result may be ascribed to other structural factors, such as the degree of specialization in these industries or the innovativeness in clean technologies.


3. Electricity prices and employment in French firms

Because employment in polluting industries reacts more to energy prices in France than in other countries, we examine in greater details what happened to French companies using firm-level data. This allows us to formally test whether these job losses can be ascribed to the increase in energy prices rather than to other structural factors. A recent INNOPATHS study (Marin and Vona, 2017) estimates the elasticity of employment of French manufacturing firms following a change in the price of energy.[3]

Table 1 shows the main results of this analysis, which uses the historical experience of price increases in the 2000s to extrapolate the effects of the carbon tax provided for in the energy transition law. They are, in a way, not surprising. Rising energy prices (measured as a weighted average of the prices of different energy sources) effectively reduce employment in French manufacturing. The effects are significant: a 10% increase in prices reduces employment by 2.6%. Unsurprisingly, these effects are stronger in the more energy-intensive industries (3.4% job loss) and more exposed to international competition (3.1% job loss). To put these results in context, it should be noted that, according to this calculation, a carbon tax of € 56 per tonne of CO2 will lead to an average increase in energy prices of 20% and, therefore, these elasticities should be doubled. However, unreported results also show that these employment effects are upper bounds, at least for multi-plant firms that can use their internal labour market to mitigate the negative effect of the shock.

This negative employment effect should also be weighed against positive effects in terms of a decrease in the energy demand and reduction of emissions. Table 2 shows that these effects go in the right direction. A 10% increase in energy prices reduces demand by more than 6%, and reduces greenhouse gas emissions by more than 11%. These quite considerable effects offset the social cost generated by the decrease in jobs. However, further research is required to understand the extent to which this decrease in emissions is just a reflection of an increase in emissions embedded in the country’s import. Such analysis as well as an analysis distinguishing between short-term and long-term effects would clearly allow us to shed more light on the net benefits of a carbon tax.

Overall, these large job losses raise the more general question of the change in comparative advantage induced by climate policies in international markets. At a first glance, it seems clear that, unlike Germany, France has not been able to turn the challenge of the energy transition into an opportunity to develop a new comparative advantage. To corroborate this conclusion, the next section will turn back to aggregate data on green exports and the size of the green economy in these two countries.


4. The energy transition: an opportunity for creating green jobs

Previous results only consider effects on energy-intensive industries. Keeping constant the industry structure, they do not consider the positive effects of job creation in the new green sectors. The destruction of jobs in energy-intensive industries can be more than offset by job creation in green industries. From this perspective, the energy transition may contribute to reignite sluggish economic growth. The scale of this counterbalancing effects remains difficult to establish: green industries follow different growth patterns from energy-intensive industries as they are usually more exposed to trade and are upstream in the value chain.

With particular reference to the situation in Europe, the available data allows for a comparison only between Germany and France and for a time span limited to the financial crisis period (2008-2014). We compare these two countries on four dimensions: employment in the green sector (Figure 5), green sector exports (Figure 6), value-added in the green industry (Figure 7), and investment in green technologies (Figure 8). It appears that the number of green jobs is roughly the same in both countries, albeit with faster growth in Germany, but also that exports of green products are 3.8 times higher in Germany than in France. Green value added is almost twice as high in Germany, and investments in green technologies almost 3 times higher. Germany is therefore more competitive than France in green industries, probably because its capacity for industrial development and therefore growth of activity and employment, in this sector as in the others, is higher. A possible answer to this divergence between France and Germany comes from a recent study on the drivers of green employment in US regions (Vona et al., 2017). According to this study, green jobs require more qualifications than jobs removed from polluting industries, mainly in terms of technical skills and engineering. Local technological expertise, as measured by the number of patent applicants in the region and by the presence of a national research lab, is also positively associated with the creation of green employment. Given the well-established comparative advantage of Germany in engineering services and machinery industries, the evidence on US regions can contribute to explain the difference between Germany and France in the capacity to turn climate policies into an opportunity. In Germany, the capital goods industry plays a key role in the design of green production processes. Recent work, based on patents, shows that Germany has a comparative advantage today and future much stronger than France in three of the four key green technologies: wind turbines, batteries and photovoltaic panels (Zachmann, 2016). 5. Concluding remarks It is very likely that the energy transition will negatively affect industrial competitiveness in the short term and therefore employment in a proportion that is greater if the companies concerned already suffer from a competitiveness deficit, like in France. This evidence argues for a phased and gradual transition, which must take into account both the time required to build a comparative advantage in the green sector, and the immediate negative effects on the polluting sectors in an already negative economic situation. The use of border carbon tax adjustment, as suggested by, among the others, Helm et al. (2012), represents a way to slow down the carbon and job leakage, giving more time to the affected industries in developed countries to adjust. On the other hand, it is no less obvious that such a transition may bring with it the creation of skilled jobs and growth. As the evidence of US regions tell us, these offsetting effects on job creation are more likely to occur if climate policies are combined with industrial policies and R&D investments on low carbon technologies. 



Greenstone, M. (2002), ‘The Impacts of Environmental Regulations on Industrial Activity: Evidence from the 1970 and 1977 Clean Air Act Amendments and the Census of Manufactures.’ Journal of Political Economy 110(6), 1175-1219.

Helm, D., Hepburn, C., Ruta, G., (2012), ‘Trade, climate change, and the political game theory of border carbon adjustments.’ Oxford Review of Economic Policy 28(2), 368-394.

Kahn, M., and Mansur, E. (2013) ‘Do local energy prices and regulation affect the geographic concentration of employment?.’ Journal of Public Economics 101, 105–114.

Marin, G., Vona, F., (2017), ‘The Impact of Energy Prices on Environmental and Socio-Economic Performance: Evidence for France Manufacturing Establishments.’ OFCE working paper.

Martin, R., Muûls, M., de Preux, L., Wagner, U., (2014), ‘Industry Compensation under Relocation Risk: A Firm-Level Analysis of the EU Emissions Trading Scheme.’ American Economic Review 104(8), 2482-2508.

Smith, V. K. (2015). ‘Should benefit–cost methods take account of high unemployment? Symposium introduction.’ Review of Environmental Economics and Policy 9(2), 165-178.

Vona, F., Marin, G., Consoli, D., (2017), ‘Measures, Drivers and Effects of Green Employment: evidence from US metropolitan and non-metropolitan areas, 2006-2014.’ SPRU working paper.

Walker, W. (2013), ‘The Transitional Costs of Sectoral Reallocation: Evidence From the Clean Air Act and the Workforce.’ Quarterly Journal of Economics 128(4), 1787-1835.

Zachmann, G. (2016), ‘An approach to identify the sources of low-carbon growth for Europe,’ Bruegel policy contribution n.16.


Tables and Figures

Table 1. Effects on employment of 10% increase of energy prices

Sector D% Employment
All Manufacturing Sectors -2.6%
Energy Intensive Sectors -3.4%
Non-energy Intensive Sectors -0.9%
Sectors exposed also to international competition -3.1%
Sectors not exposed to international competition -1.6%

Sources. Marin and Vona (2017).


Table 2. Effects on Energy Demand and CO2 Emissions

Sector D% of Energy Demand D% CO2 Emissions
All Manufacturing Sectors -6.4% -11.2%
Energy Intensive Sectors -6.6% -11.5%
Non-energy Intensive Sectors -5.3% -10.9%
Sectors exposed also to international competition -7.9% -11.4%
Sectors not exposed to international competition -5.4% -11%

Sources. Marin and Vona (2017).


Figure 1: Electricity Prices, industrial consumers

Figure 2: Gas Prices, industrial consumers

Figure 3: Share Employment High Energy Intensive

Figure 4: Share Employment Mid Energy Intensive

Figure 5: Green Employment

Figure 6: Green Value Added

Figure 7: Green Exports


Figure 8: Investments In Cleaner Tech

[1] Source Eurostat,

[2] Source EU-KLEMS, The groups are rather standard in the literature and coincide with the more energy intensive industries. Highly polluting industries are: Chemistry, Metals, Manufacturing of other non-metallic mineral products, Coke and Oil Refining, Mining. Moderately polluting industries are: Food and Beverages, Leather and Footwear, Rubber and Plastics, Textile, Wood and Wood Products, Other Manufacturing Sectors including Recycling.

[3] This study is based on data from establishments in the manufacturing sectors in France during the period 1997-2011. Three databases are merged: the DADS database (to have a measure of employment, by type of qualification, in each establishment), the FICUS database (to build a measure of enterprise productivity, unreported in this note but available in the paper) and the ECAI database (to obtain measurements of the energy mix used and energy prices paid by a sample of French establishments in the manufacturing industry). The national price of different energy sources is used, weighted by the initial energy mix of the establishments, as an instrumental variable to isolate exogenous changes in energy prices unrelated to quantity-discounts. Our estimates are conditioned to a rich set of control including sector- and region-specific trends and establishment fixed effects. We also take into account the effects of European policy to set a carbon price, the ETS (Emission Trading Scheme). The employment effects of ETS are low, consistent with the low effective severity of this policy which has provided generous exemptions for more energy-intensive industries exposed to international competition (see: Martin et al. 2014).


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