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Global bioenergy jobs at 3.52 million in 2020, IRENA reports

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Bioenergy accounted for around 3.52 million of the total 12 million global renewable energy jobs in 2020, down from 3.58 million in 2019.

Figures released by the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA) showed that the renewable energy sector employed 12 million people, directly and indirectly, in 2020. The number has continued to grow globally, with the solar photovoltaic, bioenergy, hydropower and wind power sectors being the largest employers.

In 2020, bioenergy employed some 3.5 million people across biomass, biogas and biofuels. Globally, there were 765,000 jobs in the solid biomass sector, including 188,000 in China, 58,000 in India, 44,500 in the US, 368,000 in the EU). In terms of biogas jobs, there were 339,000 employed in the sector in 2020, with 145,000 in China, 85,000 in India, and 76,000 in the EU.

Countries in Europe hosted a combined total of 1.6 million renewable energy jobs - approximately 1.3 million of them in EU Member States. The bioenergy sector is the largest employer on the continent. Solid biomass (for heat and electricity) leads with approximately 414,000 jobs (of which 368,000 are in the EU), and 79,000 biogas jobs (76,000 in the EU).

In Germany, the most recent available government data shows that renewable energy employment continued a decade-long decline from a 2011 peak of 416,800 jobs, to 299,700 in 2019. But the performance of individual industries diverged. Germany saw strong changes in wind and solar, but bioenergy registered a small decline of 2,200 jobs.

In the UK, renewables employed around 138,300 people in pre-pandemic 2019/20, up 3% from 134,000 the previous year. Bioenergy employed 45,600 people, including around 13,200 in biomass production and close to 16,000 for biomass use for power and heat.

In the future, IRENA estimates that bioenergy will be the second-largest contributor to renewable energy jobs until the 2050s, followed by wind and hydropower, across both scenarios (1.5oC and PES).

Under its World Energy Outlook, IRENA sets out its predictions for the future of renewable in two scenarios. The Planned Energy Scenario (PES) is the primary reference case for this study, providing a perspective on energy system developments based on governments’ current energy plans and other planned targets and policies, including Nationally Determined Contributions under the Paris Agreement.

The 1.5oC Scenario describes an energy transition pathway aligned with the 1.5oC climate ambition – that is, to limit global average temperature increase by the end of the century to 1.5oC, relative to pre-industrial levels. It prioritises readily available technology solutions, which can be scaled up at the necessary pace for the 1.5oC goal.

By 2050, bioenergy will employ 6 million people in the PES and 14 million people in the 1.5oc scenario, with wind employing 3.4 million in the PES and 4.5 million in the 1.5oC.