Turkmenistan’s economy and the labor market have been in a bad shape for a good decade now due to the volatility of the hydrocarbon prices (Al Jazeera), government mismanagement (Human Rights Watch) and corruption (GAN Integrity), notwithstanding the rosy GDP growth numbers of 6% (Government of Turkmenistan). In addition to the brain drain that has been happening since the early 1990s, there is a labor shortage in the country, with many going abroad in search of jobs.
The government does not report statistics on unemployment in Turkmenistan. The various independent sources report the unemployment rate in the country at 50%-60%.
The COVID-19 pandemic made the dire unemployment even worse with a shattered services sector, reduced working hours at schools, airports, banks. Now that the pandemic has eased around the world, the Turkmenistan government continues to restrict international mobility in fear of a further population decline. I think in spite of all the troubles, this situation presents a great chance to seize the opportunity to transition to green energy, following in the steps of other nations post-pandemic, suсh as Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan, and create clean energy jobs for the people of Turkmenistan.
A transition to fully sustainable forms of energy would not only reduce greenhouse gas emissions, reduce methane emissions and leakages, and help Turkmenistan meet its sustainability goals, it would also create thousands of new jobs that are desperately needed in the country.
Jobs for economic migrants
Qualitatively the renewable energy sector would open up jobs that require high qualification and skills leading to not simply more jobs but higher quality jobs with higher job satisfaction. This would speak to the hearts of many highly educated Turkmen immigrants who are forced to work in low-skill services sectors in Turkey and Russia. The jobs would also be distributed around Turkmenistan leading to additional rural development, detailed by Lund, Hvelplund, & Nunthavorakarn (2003) which is needed in Turkmenistan.
The lack of highly skilled workers left in the country is a challenge for a rapid energy transition. However, this is a solvable challenge. It is only a matter of time to educate and prepare the labor force. Educated people will return to work as long as there are jobs available. It is evident in the Turkmen immigrants’ lifestyle abroad that they yearn to come back to their home country. A person who permanently left a country would not live on a minimal allowance in order to send in remittances to Turkmenistan to buy land, to build houses and to plan weddings. It is common for Turkmen nationals to go abroad for a few years, earn money and come back to their families. If there were jobs, there would be no need to emigrate.
Renewable energy technologies can be a net-gain in the number of jobs
The job creation potential of green energy technologies is evident in the research literature, detailed by Ram (2022). Transitioning away from fossil fuels in Turkmenistan can result in job losses in the oil and gas industry but renewable energy technologies can provide net gain in the number of jobs, from construction to operation and maintenance. The research shows that for every 1% of renewable power generation capacity increase there is a gain of 0.48% in employment (Proença & Fortes, 2020).
The 10 MW solar-wind project planned to be commissioned in Turkmenistan by Calik Enerji by January 2024 is a good start, but it is minuscule, representing less than 1% of the total installed power capacity in the country (IRENA, 2021). There is great potential for solar and wind energy in Turkmenistan and harnessing all that energy and installing renewable energy capacities would create the necessary jobs needed to fight the unemployment and the labor force drain.
Implementing a rapid energy system transition to fully sustainable energy system, proposed by Satymov et al (2021), would result in 1.13 GW of solar PV and 3.5 GW of wind energy capacity installations by 2025 already, which would roughly translate into almost 30,000 new direct energy sector jobs, assuming employment factors taken from Ram et al (2022). Further expansion of renewables would create tens of thousands more jobs directly in the energy sector, not counting the indirect and induced jobs related to auxiliary services to the energy sector or as a result of abundant renewable energy availability, derived from the research of Cai et al (2011).
A rapid expansion of investments in green energy technologies would benefit the job market in Turkmenistan, help grow the human capital and nurture the renewable energy technologies expertise in the country that is critical for a green energy future. Government investing in renewables would not immediately jeopardize the oil and gas industry as it could continue existing in parallel in the near future but be slowly replaced by green sector jobs in the long run.
The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author. They do not necessarily reflect the opinions or views of the editorial group and other authors who write for the publication. Progres.online creates a space for the expression of diverse opinions in Turkmenistan.