Rob Honeyman, Head of Analysis - Ecuity Consulting

This article forms part of the LGA's Re-thinking local think piece series.

With the UK’s world-leading commitment to tackling climate change and hitting net zero emissions by mid-century, and an expected boom in the global market for sustainable technologies, many argue that the low carbon economy should be placed at the heart of the UK’s post-COVID recovery, especially given that the Government expects these sectors to grow quicker than traditional industries.  

It is timely that the Local Government Association has released a report on the employment opportunities that can be delivered from green growth - which our team at Ecuity supported and authored. According to our analysis, over 1.18 million jobs could be supported by the low carbon and renewable energy sector in England by 2050 and nearly 700,000 by 2030, in industries such as alternative fuels, energy efficiency, low emission vehicles, and low carbon heat and power. The changes in the economy needed to meet net zero emissions are significant, as are the employment and economic growth opportunities.

These estimates support a growing consensus that a green post-COVID recovery led by low carbon industries offers the opportunity for long-term employment, economic growth, and trade for the UK. This view that Governments should prioritise green industries in the economic recovery is also supported by leading academics and policymakers,  business leaders , and the general public. Green jobs are long-term, innovative, and can support nascent domestic industries that place the UK at a competitive advantage in an international marketplace that includes other decarbonising economies. 

What isn’t as clear is how the UK can get to the point where we are building back better and sustainably. Which industries and projects should be targeted, and what challenges lie ahead?

We spoke to a number of leading low-carbon industry experts and local authorities for the report’s research. These conversations helped us to hone our regional employment estimates, but also provided important insight into evolving low-carbon industry challenges that will need to be addressed if the UK is to deliver a green recovery. 

I would like to highlight two insights in this article. The first is that it is clear that the availability of qualified workers is a principal area of concern for many in low carbon industries. To provide an example, Phil Hurley Managing Director of NIBE (a leading low carbon heat pump manufacturer) could see the potential for significant market growth following strategic Government support, but noted the lack of qualified heat-pump engineers to install and sell products are as potential blocker to accelerated growth. 

Investment in local carbon industries can leverage existing strengths and areas of advantage, help with meeting climate change targets, and provide long-term economic growth and employment opportunities.

Our report summarises these reflections for each sector we analysed and industry-experts we interviewed, a group which included solar PV developers, low carbon heating system and energy efficiency manufacturers, automotive experts, fuel cell manufacturers, biofuels experts, and low carbon legal and financial service providers.

Secondly, it is clear that local climate change and enterprise plans, local decision making, and local government will be crucial to deliver a green recovery and the UK’s longer term economic and climate change targets. Our employment estimates varied in many sectors quite substantially by location, such as offshore wind, with clusters of activity in certain parts of the country. What we found is that the local governments we spoke to understood supply and demand issues, and had an important role to play in coordinating the education and upskilling of workers to meet the demands of low carbon industries in the local area. Local government should be supported in this important role.

Over 230 councils in England have declared a climate emergency. For local leaders, investment in local carbon industries can leverage existing strengths and areas of advantage, help with meeting climate change targets, and provide long-term economic growth and employment opportunities. Education, retraining and attracting a skilled workforce will be important enablers of this growth and can be supported by local leaders with appropriate national government backing.

Investment in these industries can deliver the long-term employment opportunities that the UK needs as it exits the crisis. Green infrastructure projects, such as retrofitting the UK’s inefficient building stock and developing comprehensive electric vehicle charging networks will require a substantial number of workers in industries that have a long-term role in the economy. At a time of increasing automation, zero hour contracts and unemployment, these investments can deliver considerable employment opportunities. But appropriate skills and human capital needs to be developed. Local authorities can play an important role in coordinating this development. 

Government should take note of the opportunities to support a sustainable recovery. 

If you would like more information on this topic, please don’t hesitate to reach out. The full report is also available on Ecuity’s website.