Decarbonisation efforts likely to trigger uneven job losses across UK

Decarbonisation efforts in the UK will have an uneven impact on different sectors across the country which could see some areas hit by large job losses, a report has found.

The Royal Society for Arts, Manufactures and Commerce (RSA) said that national and local governments should ensure that plans are in place to cushion workers affected by the “green jobs revolution”.

In particular, people working in fossil fuels and energy production, heavy industry and the vehicle manufacturing sectors are expected to be significantly impacted in the coming decades.

While areas like London and the South will not be heavily affected, as they have the lowest share of jobs in those sectors, jobs in the North, Midlands, Scotland and Wales will be more significantly impacted by the decarbonisation efforts. Furthermore, certain local areas heavily dependent on these sectors will be “acutely” affected, the RSA said.

Jobs in fossil fuel and energy production are most concentrated in local authorities across Scotland, the North and Midlands.

Some of these areas already have high renewable energy capacity, but in many areas workers may lack sufficient opportunities to transition into green jobs. Only half of the areas with the top 20 highest concentration of employment in these industries are in the government’s priority levelling-up category, the report said.

Jobs in heavy industry are most concentrated in parts of Northern England, the Midlands and Wales.

These jobs could be impacted by shifts to a circular economy as well as whether uncertain new technologies – like carbon capture, utilisation and storage, and low-carbon hydrogen fuels – reach maturity in time. Only half of the top 20 areas are in the government’s priority levelling-up category.

Meanwhile, jobs in vehicle manufacturing are most concentrated in parts of the Midlands and Wales. These jobs will be impacted by changes in manufacturing processes which will require different skills and may be less labour intensive, as well as being affected by modal shifts in transport. Less than half of the top 20 areas are in the government’s levelling-up priority category.

“These challenges do not provide sufficient rationale to slow down the decarbonisation of the economy, but policy-makers must ensure that plans are in place so that workers in these areas are well-positioned to benefit from the green jobs revolution or find work in other growing sectors,” the RSA said.

It called on the government to create a transition fund to support local authorities with the highest share of employment in industries likely to be impacted by decarbonisation. The fund could be used to support green job creation or economic diversification.

Fabian Wallace-Stephens, senior researcher at the RSA, said: “Decarbonisation is essential and can lead to a better future for workers and communities, but only if the state takes an active role in shaping local labour markets through investment, skills training and better welfare support.

“At present, many of the areas where the impacts will be most acutely felt are not in the priority categories for levelling-up funding. We need to make sure that decarbonisation policy and levelling-up policy work hand-in-hand to secure a better future for the most affected communities.”

Gary Smith, general secretary, GMB union, said: “Government must set up a 'Renewables Development Authority' to grow the skills and facilities for a UK supply chain for the massive investment required for net zero. This can help alleviate the job losses identified elsewhere.”

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