Government must get behind green jobs to offer real ‘levelling up’

green jobs

Around 250,000 green jobs have already been created as a result of the energy transition, but the full workforce opportunities will only be realised with stronger policies to harness the potential and manage the risks, according to a new briefing from the UK’s Climate Change Committee (CCC).

The CCC found that the majority of UK workers will see no major impacts from the transition, with the largest changes in sectors with a core role in the delivery of Net Zero – only a fifth of the current total workforce.

Two-thirds of these core workers are in sectors that can grow over the transition, especially buildings construction and retrofit and electric battery manufacturing. Around seven per cent of UK workers are in sectors that will gradually redirect their products and services. These are largely sectors that will transition from use of fossil fuels to low-carbon methods, including cement and steel. And less than one per cent of UK workers are in high-emitting sectors that are likely to phase down over the transition. This includes oil and gas, where extraction must decline.

According to the CCC, Net Zero offers the potential for significant net employment creation in the UK, with estimates of between 135,000 and 725,000 net new jobs in low-carbon sectors such as buildings retrofit, renewable energy generation and electric vehicles. But growth of jobs is not guaranteed, and it will require active reskilling and upskilling of the workforce in key areas, with the need for government support. A hands-off approach to the Net Zero workforce from Government, therefore, will not work.

“The UK has committed to Net Zero. The only question is whether the Government intends to get there in a way that benefits workers or leaves them behind,” said Lord Deben, chairman of the CCC.

“This is a unique moment to tailor our approach to skills and jobs, in the certainty of achieving the legal goal. A Net Zero workforce means secure employment for the future. This is an opportunity for the Government to bring real meaning to ‘levelling up’.”

The introduction of the United States’ Inflation Reduction Act and the EU’s proposed Green Deal Industrial Plan have increased the risk to competitiveness of the UK in some key areas of the Net Zero transition. As a result, the CCC says that UK risks missing out on opportunities to capture low-carbon market shares by not supporting skills that attract investment to the UK. Manufacturing priorities like electric vehicles and battery production face competitive pressure from new ‘green’ subsidies for inland manufacturing in the United States and European Union.

Already this is coming to pass. In a comment to the Financial Times, the chief technology officer of high-profile solar power investment developer, Oxford PV, noted that the UK was one of the “least attractive” markets in which to locate its new factory, and that they would more than likely list in New York or Hong Kong instead.

“It seems to me the rest of the world is staking their future on solar and the UK is not,” he added, before going on to say that “Germany and the US are strong candidates” for the production site.

The UK labour market has seen significant transitions in the past, including the move towards a largely service-based economy which brought opportunities to many across the country. There is also a legacy of highly disruptive transitions from the decline of coal and steel in the 1970s and 1980s, characterised by abrupt business closures in areas of concentrated regional employment.

For the CCC, Net Zero need not carry the same risks. Decarbonisation has the potential to reduce demand for certain goods and services, but the few sectors that may see job losses will see a pace of change more gradual than the coal and steel transitions of the past. Clarity on Government’s aims will give businesses and workers time to respond.

Net Zero is also expected to offer employment for economically deprived areas through the ability to direct the necessary programme of investment. For example, sectors that are expected to see the largest growth in employment include buildings construction and retrofit, transport, and low-carbon energy supply. These are spread across the UK, and they are also the sectors that will see some of the fastest transitions, driven by the roll out low-carbon technology at pace.

Additionally, the first major UK sites for decarbonised industry are expected to be in The Humber and South Wales, exploiting hydrogen and carbon capture. Other clusters could be located in Grangemouth in Scotland, Teesside, Merseyside and Southampton. These areas already employ manufacturing workers – the North of England, the East Midlands, and Yorkshire and the Humber represent 16 per cent, nine per cent, and 21 per cent of energy-intensive manufacturing jobs respectively.

The CCC said that Government intervention is not necessary in every sector of the economy. Clear policy direction for each sector is important however, combined with a responsive education and skill system. Options for developing the Net Zero workforce are not being considered systematically across Government, and strong, targeted support is needed in the Government’s forthcoming ‘Net Zero and Nature Workforce Action Plan’.

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