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Delivering net-zero can create much needed green jobs throughout the UK

20 October 2020

James Diggle, the CBI’s Head of Energy and Climate Change, discusses the opportunity we have to deliver a green recovery from the coronavirus pandemic that can help deliver our net-zero emissions goals.

Delivering net-zero can create much needed green jobs throughout the UK
Delivering net-zero can boost green jobs in the UK. Image credit: Shutterstock

Since the outbreak of the coronavirus pandemic, the idea of creating a ‘green recovery’ has quickly taken hold.

While we continue to face the challenges of this unpredictable time, and the resurgence of the virus, many continue to look for potential upsides, including the chance to respond to the climate crisis.

Build back better

The phrase ‘Build Back Better’ has been coined not just by the CBI, but Prime Minister Boris Johnson, and the US Presidential candidate, Joe Biden. This need for renewal comes at a time when a range of technology and infrastructure solutions are giving us the tools we need to change. The challenge for us all, is whether we can maximise the opportunities at hand, and pivot to a better future.

The emissions reductions brought about by national lockdowns are a stark reminder of the global decarbonisation challenge ahead, which we want to achieve while maintaining growth and economic opportunity. Meanwhile, the prospect of an elongated economic downturn has sparked concern about a prioritisation away from cutting emissions and restoring the environment.

But critically, dramatic falls in renewable energy costs, a surge of new electric vehicle models and developments in carbon capture and hydrogen technologies are just some of the changes since the last economic crash of 2008/09. So too are the impacts of climate change, which have become more and more pronounced over the last decade.

The need to act now

The need to act, and the opportunities to do it, have never been clearer.

Since the start of the year we have seen fundamental shifts in work, travel, and the level of government intervention in our lives; trends which have been identified as part of ICE’s Covid-19 work. Many of these changes, and the lessons learned, can also help with our efforts to cut emissions.

A major concern is that the health crisis will lead to a jobs crisis. So we have asked the question about whether accelerating the infrastructure requirements of our net-zero target, from wind farms, to household retrofits, can help tackle falling employment. We believe the answer is yes. HM Treasury is of the same opinion, and responded to the CBI’s call for a focus on enabling energy efficiency improvements in UK homes, business and public sector buildings, with £3bn of government money to further this aim.

The Green Recovery Roadmap

But we need to do much more to achieve net-zero, and the infrastructure requirements are significant. The CBI’s Green Recovery Roadmap, published in September, highlighted some of the priority areas for action. Much has been made of progress in decarbonising the electricity sector, but far more renewable and nuclear output must be built, alongside developing storage and flexibility market. We have entered a critical decade for delivering a low-carbon power system. It is a priority shared by the ICE’s annual State of the Nation policy report, which focused on the infrastructure requirements of meeting net-zero.

We have targeted development of Carbon Capture, Utilisation and Storage (CCUS) technology and a hydrogen economy, as priorities for government action through financial support where needed, and the creation of business models and clear policy frameworks. Building out our electric vehicle infrastructure must also be prioritised, if we are to deliver the ramp up in EV sales, predicted for this decade. Continued improvements to energy efficiency and the development of low-carbon heat solutions in new build and existing properties.

Over the coming months, we are promised multiple strategies and policy proposals from government, including the Energy White Paper and National Infrastructure Strategy. Strategies targeting heat and buildings, industrial decarbonisation, low-carbon transport, and a hydrogen economy are also in the pipeline. Recently announced is a comprehensive net-zero strategy that will be published ahead of COP26 next year.

So we enter a critical period for delivery of the strategies that will help facilitate the private sector investment required to meet our net-zero goals. This period coincides with the requirement for sustainable employment in the wake of the pandemic, so it is vital that these strategies, and action from business, helps meet both priorities, delivering low-carbon jobs across the country.

  • James Diggle, Director, Flint Global