Global renewables jobs growth could exceed by four to one the posts lost in the energy transition, predicted the International Renewable Energy Agency (Irena) as it said a record 12 million people worked in the industry by the end of last year.

The growth, from 11.5 million in 2019, was led by solar PV and wind, which employed four million and 1.25 million people respectively by the end of 2020, said the agency’s latest annual review of staffing levels.

Offshore is growing in importance to the wind sector as more nations step up their ambitions, added Irena.

China continued to dominate global employment, accounting for 39% of all jobs, followed by Brazil, India and the US. Nations highlighted by Irena as creating new roles include Vietnam, Malaysia, Indonesia, Colombia and Russia.

The agency, which worked with the International Labour Organization (ILO) to compile its data, reckons renewable energy employment could hit 43 million by 2050, and that 24-25 million jobs created by the end of this decade will far surpass an expected six to seven million posts lost because of the energy transition. “Some five million of the workers who lose their jobs will be able to find new jobs in the same occupation in another industry,” the two bodies claimed.

“Renewable energy’s ability to create jobs and meet climate goals is beyond doubt. With COP26 in front of us, governments must raise their ambition to reach net zero,” said Francesco La Camera, Irena’s director general.

The Irena review hailed the resilience of renewables compared to many other sectors, despite the “complex” impact of Covid.

“Available information suggests that, overall, renewable energy fared well compared with conventional energy – indeed, far better than expected,” said the study, which added that the industry faced challenges ranging from quarantine of workers, border closures and resulting supply chain disruptions.