Tackling climate change: Jobs for the future

A growing number of towns, cities and districts around the UK are pledging to become carbon neutral by 2050. The UK Parliament was the first in the world to declare a Climate Emergency. So what will it actually take to achieve a zero carbon economy? Anne Chapman, co-chair and director at Green House Think Tank, explores.

Ian Mecklenburgh of Alian Energy installing a rooftop solar thermal system
Ian Mecklenburgh of Alian Energy installing a rooftop solar thermal system

Image: Morecambe Bay Community Renewables (MORE Renewables)

Ian Mecklenburgh of Alian Energy installing a solar thermal system on the roof of the Boys and Girls Club in Lancaster.

Anne Chapman

The climate emergency movement is growing, with towns, cities, boroughs and even the UK government publicly recognising the climate crisis – and making voluntary pledges to become carbon neutral by 2050.

The transition to a zero carbon economy will require new energy and transport infrastructure and more energy efficient buildings. We will need to overhaul how we deal with waste, producing less of it through reuse and repair then recycling the waste that is produced.  Finally, we need a sustainable agricultural system that produces the food that we need without contributing to climate change. Jobs will be lost in fossil fuel dependant sectors but many consider that overall the number of jobs will increase. So where will those jobs be and what will they be doing?

Green House Think Tank, with the Green European Foundation, has been working on this issue for a number of years, developing a model to estimate the number of jobs that could be available in the transition to zero carbon. First we looked at particular geographical areas: the Isle of Wight in 2016 and the Sheffield City Region in 2017. Then in 2018, we looked at the whole of the UK, split into local authority areas.

The total number of jobs in the UK during a transition phase (up to 2030) was estimated to be 980,000, with 710,000 long term jobs thereafter.

The model took available information about the numbers of jobs associated with installing renewable energy, insulating homes, recycling waste, producing food and increasing public transport, and combined this with data on local areas, such as population, number of dwellings, waste production, travel and land use, to estimate the number of jobs that could be created in each area.

An estimate for jobs required to train and support people to take up the new jobs was also included, and where information was available, jobs that would be lost (for example in coal fired power stations, or in maintenance of internal combustion engine vehicles) were subtracted from the numbers that would be created.

The total number of jobs in the UK during a transition phase (up to 2030) was estimated to be 980,000, with 710,000 long term jobs thereafter. Most of the transition jobs are in installation of renewable energy systems and retrofit of buildings. There will also be lots of jobs in completing electrification of the railway system and installing electric vehicle charging points, but no data on these jobs was available. Long term jobs are primarily in public transport, maintenance of wind turbines and the reuse and recycling of waste.

These job numbers are likely to be underestimates, as for lots of activities (like electrification) that will be part of the transition, no information was available on the numbers of jobs required, meaning estimates could not be made.

We need to ensure that those working in fossil-fuel dependant sectors are given the training they need to take up the new jobs.

These jobs will be all over the UK, not only concentrated on large, already prosperous cities.  However, realising them will require a transition strategy that prioritises these local jobs:

  • Small-scale renewable energy, not just off-shore wind farms;

  • A programme of street by street retrofit of buildings in every community;

  • Supporting local businesses that reuse and repair goods;

  • Mechanisms to support agriculture that help farmers provide permanent jobs, not just short term, seasonal work; and

  • Good local public transport rather than high speed long distance trains.

“It is clear that the transition to a zero-carbon economy will create a net increase in jobs,” said Jonathan Essex, one of the authors of the report. “This is good news, but it illustrates the scale of the challenge, particularly at a time of low unemployment. We need to ensure that those working in fossil-fuel dependant sectors are given the training they need to take up the new jobs, but getting the workers needed to achieve the transition may also mean other parts of the economy having to be scaled back.

“The urgency of the climate crisis means that the transition to a low carbon economy should have priority when it comes to the available time, skills and expertise of people in the UK.  Achieving it would result in stronger, healthier communities as well as enabling us to do our part in tackling climate change.”

The work carried out in 2018 is set out in the report ‘Unlocking the Job Potential of Zero Carbon’. The appendices, available to download from the Green European Foundation website, give the results for each of the local areas within the UK. Green House will be presenting this work at its Climate Emergency conference in London on 14 September. More information about this event can be found on the Green House website.

Anne Chapman is a director and co-chair of Green House Think Tank Ltd. She is also a director at Morecambe Bay Community Renewables in Lancaster.

‘Unlocking the Job Potential of Zero Carbon; Report on the case studies United Kingdom, Hungary and the Republic of Ireland’, by Anne Chapman, Jonathan Essex and Peter Sims, is available at: https://gef.eu/publication/unlocking-the-potential-of-zero-carbon/  It is produced by the Green European Foundation with the support of Green House Think Tank and with the financial support of the European Parliament to the Green European Foundation.

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