Number of green jobs in UK reached record high in 2021

The number of UK-based jobs in low-carbon and renewable energy sectors in 2021 was almost 40,000 higher than in 2020, official new figures show. But the Government is still not on track to deliver its flagship pledge of two million green jobs by 2030.

Number of green jobs in UK reached record high in 2021

Pictured: Wind turbine technicians employed by Orsted in Grimsby. Image: Orsted

The Office for National Statistics (ONS) has today (16 February) published its latest annual survey of the green economy, including data for the full year of 2021. The ONS covers employment in 17 sectors relating to low-carbon and renewable energy, including nuclear power generation, renewable power generation, energy flexibility, energy efficiency and electric vehicles (EVs).

The headline figure is that the UK hosted some 247,400 full-time equivalent roles in 2021, up from 207,800 in 2020. Growth in the number of jobs stagnated between 2019 and 2020 amid Covid-19-related lockdowns, but seems to be rebounding significantly.

Prior to the release of today’s statistics, the record number of full-time equivalent roles in these sectors was recorded in 2014, at 235,900.

“Although a proportion of this observed increase could be attributed to the recovery of the UK economy from the pandemic, this is not likely to be the whole picture,” the ONS noted in a statement.

As in previous years, the vast majority of the jobs assessed were located in England. The manufacturing of products that improve energy efficiency is the largest sector in terms of jobs, accounting for almost 56% of full-time equivalent roles.

However, the ONS has also recorded a steep increase in employment year-on-year in the low-emission vehicles and related infrastructure space, of 71%. Almost 40,000 people now work in this field. An 89% year-on-year increase in low-carbon jobs in the vehicle and motorcycle wholesale, retail and repair space is documented.

The ONS additionally documented a 35% year-on-year increase in employment in the low-carbon services field, bringing the total close to 10,000 full-time-equivalent roles. Many of these roles entail the provision of services to the construction, manufacturing and energy sectors.

As well as documenting an increase in jobs in the low-carbon and renewable energy sectors, the ONS also tracks how much these sectors contribute to the national economy. It has reported a 30.8% year-on-year increase in turnover between 2020 and 2021, to £54.4bn. Energy-efficient products accounted for more than one-third (36%) of turnover in 2021.

Concerns on the horizon

While the headline figures from the ONS are positive, the data does reveal some negative trends.

There was a 15% decrease in green jobs year-on-year in the electricity, gas, steam and air conditioning sectors, for example. This decrease comes at a time when the UK needs more jobs in these fields, to reach its 2035 renewable energy target and energy efficiency targets for buildings and industry.

More broadly, the ONS has documented no significant increase in the total proportion of green jobs within total national employment. Moreover, the proportion of turnover which the UK’s green economy accounts for out of the whole continues to stagnate.

The UK Government remains off-track to deliver its flagship goal of hosting two million green jobs by 2030.

Under Boris Johnson, the Government created a Green Jobs Taskforce featuring representatives from businesses, trade bodies, education and NGOs. We are not sure whether the Taskforce will continue to exist under Rishi Sunak.

Sunak’s government has until the end of March to provide an update to its Net-Zero Strategy, after the High Court ruled it unlawful last summer.

MPs have pushed the Government to provide a formal definition of what constitutes a ‘green job’ and to provide a thorough update to its plans for skills or education. Chancellor Jeremy Hunt has touted a focus on enterprise, education and employment in the green economy in the upcoming Budget.

Commenting on today’s ONS statistics, the left-wing think-tank the Institute for Public Policy Research called growth in green jobs since 2014 “decidedly unspectacular”.

IPPR’s associate director for energy, climate, housing and infrastructure, Luke Murphy, said: “Today’s ONS assessment shows that the UK risks falling behind in the global green race, just as our allies and economic competitors such as the United States are unleashing significant interventions to boost their economies and accelerate towards net-zero.

“Before the UK falls out of the race altogether, the UK Government needs to step up public investment, offer longer term and more ambitious policies from energy efficiency to clean transport, and back them with a serious green industrial strategy. Failure to do so will see the UK fall behind economically and undermine our progress towards our climate goals.”

The Confederation of British Industry (CBI) recently, similarly, warned that the UK is “falling behind rapidly” in the “global race for green growth”.

CBI director-general Tony Danker said he is “worried” about the UK’s “complacency on green technologies” and found Chris Skidmore MP’s recent Net-Zero Review “devastating”. The review pointed out more than 120 interventions that the UK Government would need to make to deliver a ‘pro-business, pro-growth’ transition to net-zero, concluding that there is still time to seize this opportunity but that action is needed in the near future. Several recommendations require implementation this year.

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