The government’s commitment to achieving net zero has the potential to catalyse growth in high-quality jobs across the UK’s regions, but new policies are needed to harness those opportunities. That is one of the conclusions the government’s independent, non-departmental advisory Climate Change Committee (CCC) has come to in its “A Net Zero Workforce” report, published today.
The green transition presents opportunities as well as risks, says the committee, which was established in 2008 to advise on climate change and associated policy areas. The CCC is headed by John Gummer, a former chair of the Conservative Party from the Thatcher era, and includes the Institute for Fiscal Studies director, Paul Johnson, as well as leading scientists and academics among its members.
“Net zero will transform the economy,” says the report, “but the majority of workers will not see major impacts.” It estimates that a fifth of the workforce will be heavily impacted – those that have a “core role” in net zero delivery, principally those employed in retrofit and construction, as well as electric-battery manufacturing. “Less than 1 per cent of UK workers are in sectors that will need to phase down as a result of the transition,” it goes on, claiming “there is potential for the net zero transition to create more jobs than will be lost”.
According to the report, a potential 725,000 net jobs could be created in low-carbon sectors such as electric-vehicle manufacture and renewable energy, but jobs growth was “not guaranteed”. Realising the job-creation benefits of net zero would require the reskilling and upskilling of the workforce, it concludes. The UK was losing out to international competition, and “may be missing out on opportunities… by not supporting the skills that could help attract investment”.
The report is the latest example of criticism of the government’s approach to net zero. March’s so-called green day of policy announcements to tackle climate change was described as “underwhelming” by the climate change think tank E3G. While the US has announced $500bn in new spending and taxes as part of its Inflation Reduction Act, much of which is earmarked for subsidies for green technology and transport, the EU has launched its own multibillion-euro green transition package. The British government, however, has failed to set out an equivalent agenda with similar ambitions or fiscal weight.
“EV and battery manufacturing,” says the report, was seeing “consumer subsidies for inland manufacturing being put in place abroad”. Joe Biden’s climate commitments are being specifically targeted to promote domestic manufacturing and jobs in rust-belt areas, and help support shorter, more localised supply chains. The CCC says that decarbonisation could similarly “create opportunities in areas that have historically had lower growth”, but that “policy must be put in place if it is to harness the potential of the transition and manage its risks”.
Alok Sharma, the former Cop26 president, said “a calibrated hands-on approach from government will help to deliver hundreds of thousands of green jobs and hubs of technological innovation across the UK’s industrial heartlands. This will need to include an ambitious response to the US’s Inflation Reduction Act which is hoovering up billions of dollars of private sector investment and jobs.”
[See also: We must stop investing in our own demise]