Inclusive Climate Action Op-Ed

How A Program in Ghana to Create Green Jobs Can Be a Lesson for US Mayors & Across the Globe

The MMC, the Accra Metropolitan Assembly, and local community leaders celebrate the construction of a childcare center in an informal area of Accra, Ghana. Credit: Samer Saliba

This article first appeared on the IPS website. MMC engages in content partnerships with several organizations, and cross-posting does not indicate an endorsement or agreement.

ACCRA / NEW YORK, Mar 19 2024 (IPS) – For the past eight years, Chiso has collected waste as part of Accra’s informal waste management sector. Since arriving in Ghana from Nigeria, he has earned enough to allow him and his family to survive, but saving money has been nearly impossible.

For Chiso, accessing the formal labor market has been challenging due to factors like obtaining a national ID. Without access to a formal job, Chiso has no negotiating power, leaving him at the mercy of fluctuating market prices and aggressive competitors, jeopardizing his health and livelihood.

For years, Accra has faced two concurrent trends: the arrival of displaced people like Chiso into the city from elsewhere in the country and West Africa, and a growing need for workers in green jobs to make the city cleaner, healthier and safer. Many displaced people in Accra, like most other cities, struggle to find good-paying jobs.

At the same time, Accra grapples with improper waste management – the World Bank estimates that around 20,000 Ghanaians die prematurely each year from poor water, sanitation and hygiene, most of them living in Accra,

Teaming up with the Mayors Migration Council, the Accra Metropolitan Assembly devised a solution to tackle both of these issues at once, and turn what could be seen as a challenge into the opportunity to build a greener, more inclusive city: we would help migrant workers enroll in formal waste cooperatives, while helping fill gaps in the city’s waste management value chain.

Since the program’s launch last year with support from the Global Cities Fund for Migrants and Refugees, we’ve successfully established a cooperative of 40 waste workers and assisted over 250 people in situations similar to Chiso’s register for national health insurance.

We also convened national and city authorities to advocate for nationwide policy changes to make it easier for migrants to access jobs by simplifying requirements for national identification and other services.

And we’re alleviating the daily strains that migrants in Accra face, such as creating a child care center in a major hub for informal waste workers to provide safe spaces for children away from the hazardous sites where their parents work.

This program not only demonstrates what happens when funds are given directly to the governments closest to the people, but also illustrates how migrants can fill employment gaps, contributing to greener and more inclusive cities. And it can be done anywhere in the world – including in the U.S.

Like Ghana, many cities have large numbers of migrants eager to work in the formal economy, coupled with a shortage of workers to take on green jobs. In the U.S. this is particularly the case following recent investments from the Inflation Reduction Act that will boost the green labor market with more than 1.5 million new clean energy jobs by 2030.

Given the large scale of labor demands, this could result in a worker shortage. But migrant workers could play an important role in accelerating the green transition by filling skills gaps and labor needs like those that are expected in the U.S. in the next few years. We believe that mayors across the U.S. and the globe could also develop win-win programs that match migrants who want to work with jobs that cities need to fill.

Several U.S. mayors for example, including Mayor Ron Nirenberg in San Antonio, Mayor Kate Gallego in Phoenix, Mayor Karen Bass in Los Angeles, Mayor Mike Johnson in Denver, and Mayor Brandon Johnson in Chicago, have already been champions for migrants in their communities.

In these cities, migrants constitute a large proportion of the workforce in rapidly growing green industries like waste management and manufacturing.

As the number of migrants and displaced individuals seeking refuge in cities continues to rise in the U.S. and worldwide, there’s a need to support the mayors embracing them as active contributors to the transition to a green economy. Despite doing more with less, mayors often lack access to the funding and resources needed to implement solutions like Accra’s at scale.

Accra’s green jobs program serves as a model for the effectiveness of directly funding mayors who know their cities’ needs and opportunities best. We call on the philanthropic community to join us and lead by example by localizing their giving and investing directly in cities, and we call on mayors across the world to consider how they can create win-win opportunities for migrants and their city’s economies.


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