Simran Basi asks whether a green industrial revolution could help us tackle rising unemployment rates and climate change.
The Covid-19 pandemic has disrupted the UK economy and, nearly a year on from its outbreak, the number of people unemployed continues to rise. The latest figures show that an estimated 1.74 million people are out of work, a number that is expected to increase significantly by mid-2021. However, this number does not take into account the furlough scheme that is preventing many redundancies. There is hope that distribution of the vaccine will mitigate some of the long-term challenges and effects of the pandemic, but it will not prevent them entirely. Business and government will eventually need to ensure a safe return to work, which may create costs for businesses, and it is likely that some forms of employment may no longer be viable. Therefore, the need for the government to create more jobs to help the economy bounce back is pressing, and efforts to create new jobs should be focused on the future needs of our people and planet.
The pandemic may have left us an opportunity to tackle the climate emergency, which is bigger and longer-lasting than the pandemic. In November, Boris Johnson outlined his ten-point plan for a green industrial revolution to help meet those 2050 net-zero emissions targets. It aims to create up to 250,000 new jobs. This is a promising start, but research shows that more investment in a greener economy can create thousands more jobs. Green New Deal UK, a non-profit organisation, released a report providing UK-wide estimates for potential job creation from a programme of investment across the country.
They have found that:
- A Government investment of £69 billion in the first two years of the deal could mean the creation of an estimated 2m new green jobs. Which might be enough to help soak up the shorter-term employment consequences of the Covid crash.
- Investing £48.75bn across two years would create nearly 600,000 green-infrastructure jobs straight away.
- £20bn invested in the care sector across two years would create 600,000 jobs in those two years and nearly 2m permanent jobs in the future.
When thinking about green jobs, the care sector probably does not come to mind. However, investment in low-emissions sectors such as care would help decarbonise the economy. The pandemic has shone a light on the care sector, and if the aim of recovery is to create a flourishing green economy rich in highly valued jobs with lower environmental impacts, then this is the way to go. In fact, the Women’s Budget Group found that investment in the care sector could create more than twice as many jobs as investment in construction industries and promote gender equality.
Jobs that work for everyone
There is already evidence across the world that shows that investment in the green sector can create jobs and boost the economy. South Africa is constructing several solar farms, of varying sizes, which are expected to create 75,000 jobs and power thousands of homes. In New Zealand, a wind farm in Manawatu created 100 full time jobs in its 12-month construction period and continues to generate NZD8m–11m (£4.2m–5.7m) into the local economy each year.
However, as Green New Deal UK point out, there a few things to take into consideration when creating these new jobs. One is the quality and type of the jobs and another is who will likely be able to access and benefit from them. The pandemic has disproportionately affected certain groups of people who were already more likely to be unemployed, such as young people, ethnic minorities, those with fewer qualifications and those working in industries shut down due to lockdown. A green industrial revolution needs to ensure these people are not left behind and that everyone has access to the same opportunities.
Green jobs are very diverse and, with the right investment, opportunities for non-graduates and those with few or no qualifications can be created across several industries – including rail, technology, health and social care. Apprenticeships and traineeships could be developed to help young people train in these areas and help them build a sustainable career. For example, green infrastructure projects across cities could offer work placements to young people and disadvantaged groups to help them build skills and experience. The new government Kickstart scheme could be utilised to develop roles in the green sector and create new placements in areas of sustainability. Several sectors are going to need to adapt to prevent unemployment through the transition and ensure workers are reskilled to do a green job. There will also need to be training programmes developed by councils and organisations to help people access the right skills and support them to move into sustainable work and green sectors. The new green jobs need to be of a high quality, offer a decent wage and improved working conditions, and have plenty of progression and career-development opportunities.
Transitioning to a low-carbon economy has many other benefits and can create development opportunities that will strengthen communities. Non-profit energy cooperative Repowering London works with local communities to bring renewable energy to London’s poorest areas, with the first success being in Brixton, where solar panels were affixed to tower blocks. Since its establishment in 2011, Repowering London has expanded, and its 2019 Lambeth Project raising around £140,000 from a community of investors. This enabled it to install solar panels on school roofs, and generation of solar energy created a £35,000 community fund, which has been used to deliver school and community activities in Lambeth. These types of projects also promote and strengthen communities by providing training, skills-sharing, investment and entrepreneurship opportunities for local people. There are community energy societies all over the UK proving that the move to renewable energy is not only feasible, but that it can be done at the local level with added benefits.
These enterprises and projects that transform local economies are part of a wider Transition Network, the approach of which is all about communities stepping up to address the big challenges they face by acting locally. It’s an approach that has spread to over 50 countries across thousands of groups in towns, villages, cities, universities and schools, proving that there are exciting and innovative changes happening now all over the world. There is no shortages of stories that show the potential of investing in greener energy and technologies and living more sustainably – whether they are stories of community action, movements, policies or exciting moments that show us we can live differently.
Decarbonising the UK economy and creating green jobs will bring a number of challenges, but the potential of a green industrial revolution should not be underestimated. It would create sorely needed jobs across the economy, in industries both new and existing, and strengthen communities, while bringing down emissions to avoid climate catastrophe.
Simran Basi is the YES Project Development Officer at Leicestershire Cares, supporting young people into employment. She is passionate about tackling climate change, an interest sparked from completing a chemistry degree, and leads the environmental working group at Leicestershire Cares. @LeicsCares