Energy panel discussion: Will COP26 help to deliver good green jobs?

22 September 2021

One of the highlights of the Prospect Energy Conference was a panel of industry experts discussing whether COP26, being held in Glasgow this November, will help to deliver good green jobs.

Panel discussion at Prospect energy sector conference 2021

On the panel were:

Luke Murphy of the IPPR think-thank; Georgina Hines of the Nuclear Institute’s Young Generation Network; Josie Murdoch of the Aldersgate Group, a membership alliance that champions for a sustainable economy; and Jenny Patient who leads the TUC’s just transition work in Yorkshire and the Humber.

Their comments have been edited for length and clarity.

Luke Murphy, IPPR

Meeting Net Zero and restoring nature presents one of the biggest opportunities to create high quality jobs in our history. Our analysis, which we’ve worked on together with the TUC, suggests that it could create 1.68m jobs by 2035, with 780,000 direct jobs and 905,000 indirect jobs. But I don’t think we should be under any illusions that this is going to happen automatically.

Luke Murphy, IPPR

Luke Murphy, IPPR

It will require active government policy, including new institutions; support for business; a focus on education and skills; a step change in public investment; a partnership with workers and their trade unions, business and industry, and civil society as well.

Over the last two years IPPR has been running a cross-party Environmental Justice Commission, which had representatives from Labour, Conservative and the Green parties as its co-chairs and also commissioners drawn from business, academia, civil society and trade unions.

We’ve called for four things:

First, is institutions. We’ve called for the creation of a Net Zero and Fair Transition Delivery Body to be created by the UK and devolved nations.

Second, is investment. I don’t think we can get away from the fact that the UK government really needs to step up on its financial commitments to the transition.

Third, is education, skills training, and worker voice. We’ve called for the UK government and devolved nations to introduce the funded right to retrain for all workers impacted by the transition to Net Zero.

Finally, is support for businesses to decarbonise.

While the government is talking the talk on this issue, it is not really walking the walk. There is absolutely a huge opportunity, but the government needs to invest and design policies to make it happen because the market isn’t going to do it by itself

Georgina Hines, Young Generation Network

The Young Generation Network is a subgroup of the body that looks after nuclear professionals in the UK, the Nuclear Institute.

On whether COP26 will lead to jobs, then probably not. We’re unlikely to see any specific commitments at the event itself. These meetings are largely about holding governments accountable, and COPs are special because of the size of the platform that it gives advocates and NGOs.

Georgia Hines

Georgina Hines

In the context of nuclear, one of the problems is public perception. People think nuclear is dirty, old and expensive. Even some countries, like Germany, are anti-nuclear and they’ve been advocating for nuclear to be excluded from COP. That’s why YGN is getting involved.

We’ve launched something called the Net Zero Needs Nuclear campaign and it’s been a spider web of activities that have created buzz before COP26. Our three overarching aims are to educate, inspire and advocate. We’ve met with leading figures from the International Energy Agency; the International Atomic Energy Agency; ministers; MPs; and government.

We’ve also launched a letter writing campaign, where individuals could write to their own MP or local representative saying why they think nuclear is needed for Net Zero. We had a letter with 100 signatories from different organisations that went to John Kerry, the US climate envoy.

When we speak about nuclear, we’re not just advocating for the technology; we’re showing how proud we are to work in the sector. Younger generations want more from a career. They want a purpose in what they’re doing. I want to believe in what I’m doing and what greater cause is there than fighting climate change?

We’re saying to government, invest in nuclear. It’s scalable, deployable and available now. Nuclear jobs are highly-skilled and highly-paid but they’re also often clustered in areas that are socially and economically disadvantaged, so it’s perfect for the levelling up and just transition agendas.

Josie Murdoch, Aldersgate Group

The Aldersgate Group has been around about 15 years and we’re a progressive alliance of members across the economy including retail, manufacturing, food, and the energy sector.

Josie Murdoch

Josie Murdoch

In terms of whether COP26 will be good for green jobs, one of the big priorities for our members is the Net Zero strategy, which the UK government is currently working on, and will hopefully come out soon.

It’s been delayed a number of times and COP26 is a strong impetus to get the strategy out and be the first major economy to publish something like that. It should cover all the different sectors: transport, buildings, energy and everything else, laying out the policies that are clear and detailed and help drive investment in those areas.

Decarbonising the economy will create jobs, but we will also need workers with the right skills to take those jobs. There is a missing link between these two things at the moment, which is a concern for our members.

We would ideally see a road map for skills in the Net Zero strategy. For example, one policy on skills that we would love to see is climate change and sustainability being embedded across the school curriculum, not just in science.

On engineering, we’d like to see increased funding for short courses across the UK. At the moment, a lot of these qualifications for highly skilled work take a year, then there’s no guarantee that you’ll get a job at the end. They can be very expensive as well. We’d really like to see the government working with further education institutions to create shorter and cheaper courses to start skilling up existing workers.

Finally, we’d also like to see more business education partnerships. In our membership we have the University of Hull, which works with Siemens to create a Masters in offshore wind, which then leads straight into jobs.

It is really great to see the government focused on the Net Zero strategy but need a big focus on skills too, and particularly on green skills.

Jenny Patient, TUC

The traditional idea of just transition has been to look at the jobs that need greening, and the threats to those jobs. I want to look at the wider agenda and I think that’s what we’re doing in Yorkshire.

Jenny Patient

Jenny Patient

I’m based in Leeds, working with the Yorkshire climate commissioner and there is great work being done to bring different sectors together, and to look at what needs to happen locally. We now have a 50-point action plan, which is on the verge of being agreed.

Nationally, the UK’s plans for decarbonising have a major fault because I don’t see how it’s going to talk to people in the workforce. It doesn’t mention trade unions at all.

Another fault is that it doesn’t really think about the supply chain, about the embedded carbon emissions that exist in the things that we buy, use and put together. What happens when you send an energy intensive industry offshore, you’re actually improving the UK’s emissions but you’re not actually improving the situation globally. It’s probably being made in a dirtier way somewhere else.

Credit to everyone here, there’s been a fantastic decarbonisation of the power sector and that has made a big difference to lowering our emissions. But there’s a lot still to do. That was perhaps the easy bit and the public have not had to be too involved. When it comes to other areas like transport, housing and food we’ll have to involve the public and workers. It will be key to making good decisions.

The Yorkshire and Humber Climate Commission is looking to work in those areas where things get complex and that are related to each other. For instance, on heating homes we need a big programme of insulation and we may need to change the source of heating, while ensuring people can still afford to heat their homes properly.

It’s about having an action plan that everybody can sign up to, but it’s also about justice and reducing inequalities instead of exacerbating them. COP26 will be important for talking about those national contributions but the detail really needs to be done in local places.


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