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Could a green industrial revolution help us tackle rising unemployment rates and climate change?

11 Feb 2021

It is no secret the pandemic has disrupted the UK economy and nearly a year on, is continuing to do so as the number of people unemployed continues to rise. The latest figures show that there is an estimated 1.72 million people out of work, which is expected to more than double by mid-2021. However, this number does not consider the furlough scheme which is preventing many redundancies. There is hope that the 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 a cost 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 focussed on the future needs of our people and planet.

The pandemic may have given us an exciting opportunity at tackling the climate emergency, which is bigger and longer lasting than the pandemic. In November, The Prime Minister outlined his ten-point plan for a green industrial revolution to help meet those 2050 Net Zero Emissions targets and 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 of more jobs. Green New Deal, 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 £69bn in the first two years of the deal could mean an estimate of 1.2m new green jobs created. 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.

£20 bn invested in the care sector, across two years, would create 600,000 jobs and nearly 2 million permanent jobs in the future.

When thinking about green jobs, the care sector probably does not come into mind. However, investment in low emissions sectors, such as the care sector, would help decarbonise the economy. The pandemic has shone a light on the care sector and if the aim of recovery after the pandemic is to create a flourishing and green economy rich of high valued jobs with a lower environmental impact, then this is the way to go. In fact, the Women’s Budget Group found that investment in the care sector can create twice as many jobs as investment in construction industries and promote gender equality!

There is already evidence across the world that shows that investment in the green sector can create jobs and boost the economy. For example, South Africa are constructing several solar farms which vary in size and is expected to create 75,000 jobs and power thousands of homes. New Zealand have built a wind farm in Manawatu which created 100 full time jobs in its 12-month construction period and continues to generate $8 – 11 million into the Manawatu economy each year.

However, like Green New Deal pointed out there a few things to take into consideration when creating these new jobs. One is the quality and type of the jobs and the other is who will likely to be able to access and benefit from it. The effects of Covid – 19 has disproportionally affected certain groups of people who are more likely to be unemployed than others, 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 groups of 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 for those with few or no qualifications can be created in several industries including rail, technology, health and social care. Apprenticeships and traineeships can be developed to help young people train in these areas and help them build a sustainable career. Several sectors are going to need to adapt to prevent unemployment through the transition and ensure workers a reskilled to do a green job. The new green jobs need to be of a high quality, offer a decent wage, improved work conditions and have plenty progression and career development opportunities.

Like with anything, there will be a number of challenges associated with decarbonising the UK economy and creating green jobs, but the potential of a green industrial revolution should not be underestimated. It will create jobs in industries both new and existing across the economy, which currently is very needed, while bringing down emissions that scientist say is necessary to avoid a climate catastrophe.

Simran Basi