UK’s net-zero transition will create up to 1.7 million green jobs this decade, report finds

Most of the new jobs would be in energy efficiency - but there are also major opportunities in energy generation and manufacturing

That is the headline finding of a new report from think tank Onward, entitled ‘Greening the Giants’.

The report looks at the potential economic and job creation of the UK’s net-zero transition, if Government joins up its policy approach and adopts the CCC’s advice for the Sixth Carbon Budget. The CCC’s proposed budget would see the UK reducing emissions by 78% by 2035, against a 1990 baseline, compared to the

In its recommendations paper on the proposed budget, the CCC calls for a rapid scaling up of sectors including renewable energy generation, electric vehicles, nature conservation and restoration, energy efficiency and carbon capture and storage (CCS).

Onward’s report assesses the potential benefits if the UK Government adopts this advice as law – and properly supports its delivery, with a focus on the UK’s most carbon-intensive sectors. It covers 12 sectors dubbed “carbon giants” for the fact that they are each attributable to more than 2% of the UK’s annual emissions: aviation, agriculture, steel, manufacturing, construction, land transport, power generation, shipping and fishing, waste and sewerage, extractives and retail.

In these sectors and their value chains alone, Onward believes that some 1.7 million new full-time equivalent roles could be created by 2030. The majority of these roles – at least 900,000 would relate to energy efficiency and low-carbon heating. The Government is notably targeting two million green jobs by 2030 so, if these new roles were added to existing roles, that goal would be met.

The report looks at the potential risk as well as reward. The costs of getting a ‘just’ net-zero transition wrong would be felt by UK workers, the report warns, with the 12 sectors analysed accounting for 21% of current jobs. Job losses, or, on the flip side, gains, would not be felt equally – the Midlands, the North of England and Scotland are all more dependent on high-emitting sectors than the South of England. ‘Levelling up’ across and between regions is notably a key part of the current Conservative Government’s long-term vision.

Policy recommendations

According to the report, there are several key challenges that must be overcome to unlock the level of job creation outlined, ranging from political motivations in industries and regions, to challenges with technology, to financial pressure in the wake of Covid-19. On the latter, Onward reiterates the CCC’s calculations that the net-zero transition can be delivered with 0.5%-1% of GDP, thanks to the falling costs of low-carbon technologies.

The report provides 25 specific policy recommendations to remediate current challenges. Chief among them is the creation of a Net Zero Delivery Taskforce in Whitehall. Modelled on the Vaccines Taskforce founded in 2020, the Taskforce would initiate and support government-sponsored trials of emerging low-carbon technologies that do not yet exist at a commercial scale in the UK. This, the report argues, would help move beyond the existing piecemeal approach to funding for such technologies, providing more certainty for innovators and investors.

The report also floats inclusion in the Contracts for Difference (CfD) auction process as a way to support green hydrogen production and CCS. Experts have attributed CfD inclusion, in part, to the success of the UK’s offshore wind sector. A Carbon Takeback Obligation, meanwhile, would require fossil fuel extractors and exporters to permanently capture and store a proportion of their emissions.

Additionally detailed are measures to help ensure that the benefits of the net-zero transition also benefit regional and local economies in the UK – with a focus on those needing it most. The report recommends that the UK Government does more to promote UK-based suppliers to the producers of low-carbon technologies and that it works with the CCC, Mayors and local authorities to develop region-specific carbon targets on the road to net-zero.

“The UK has successfully halved its emissions since 1990, but that means the low-hanging fruit have already been picked,” report co-author Ted Christie-Miller said.

“The next phase will require the wholesale transformation of industries that are integral to our economy and vital for regional jobs. It is essential the Government helps these industries to make the transition, while helping new net-zero industries to flourish. “

The Government has faced a string of accusations from MPs and green groups in recent weeks that it does not have a coherent plan to deliver net-zero. A net-zero roadmap, detailing sector-specific targets on the road to 2050 and outlining preferred technologies, is due out ahead of COP26. It will build on policy packages like the Energy White Paper and updated Industrial Strategy, as well as the forthcoming Hydrogen Strategy and Heat and Buildings Strategy.

Sarah George

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