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Green jobs key to avoid ‘long-term scarring’ from Covid unemployment

The UK must shift a planet-friendly economy, experts told the Environmental Audit Committee, but ministers must support workers through the transition

Green jobs are crucial in rebuilding from the Covid-19 economic fallout, MPs were told today.

Public transport, renewable energy, nature restoration and flood defences are all areas which could create jobs, tackle the climate crisis and boost the economy, experts told the Environmental Audit Committee, but only if the Government acts quickly.

There are 18 gigawatts’ worth of planned green electricity projects — the equivalent of six nuclear power plants — ready to employ workers and begin construction, according to renewable energy experts Regen. These could soon provide 200,000 jobs and £125 billion to the UK economy with investment to accelerate them, according to the analysis.

And if half of UK towns and cities introduced best practice cycle lanes and pedestrianisation over the next two years, another 100,000 jobs could be created, said Libby Peake, head of resource policy at the Green Alliance think tank.

“We must ensure there is no long-term scarring from unemployment,” Peake added. “It’s going to rise a lot in the short-term and if we don’t re-engage those people quickly, they could lose their skills and become disengaged from the labour market.”

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“There are hundreds of thousands of people already employed in green jobs,” said Mike Hemsley, team leader of carbon budgets at the Climate Change Commission. “We’ll need hundreds of thousands more to do more things across a whole host of sectors in the future. You’ll see the kind of industry emerge for heat pumps [a renewable energy-based heating system] that we have for gas boilers today, for example.”

“Many of the projects we talk about, like energy efficiency retrofits and upgrading our housing stock, would both result in short-term job creation but also in long-term benefits,” said Luke Murphy, associate director for energy, climate, housing and infrastructure at the Institute for Public Policy Research. 

“And it means cleaner air as a result of better transport, lower energy bills as a result of energy efficiency.”

There were “positive noises” coming from the Treasury around environmental measures to boost employment, Peake said, but they were “not yet loud enough to be confident that that’s the direction of travel” ahead of the upcoming March budget.

“We would like to see a commitment not to invest in industries that are more polluting or will hamper environmental goals,” she said, to ensure investments “align with our climate targets.”

The promise of green jobs means driving up employment in more deprived areas, according to Murphy, who said offshore wind projects have already increased funding in poorer parts of the UK.

But it’s crucial the Government provide support for those currently working in high-carbon sectors such as electricity and transport, he added, to ensure no one is left behind by the necessary transition to a green economy.

“In Aberdeen, oil and gas workers made up over 10 per cent of the local economy,” Murphy added.

“Poorly managed, unjust transitions have left certain regions less well-off. In former coal mining areas, there remains to this day high levels of worklessness and high levels of low pay as a result of that lack of intervention in the past.

“Repeating that could also inhibit the net zero transition, as we’d likely lose support for it.”

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