Up to 660,000 jobs could be at risk if the UK fails to reach its net-zero target as quickly as other nations, the Trade Union Congress (TUC) has warned.
The government has committed to reducing carbon emissions by 78% by 2035.
However, the TUC is concerned that many jobs will be moved offshore to countries with superior green infrastructure and decarbonisation support.
The union organisation is advocating for an £85 billion green recovery package to create 1.2 million green jobs.
According to TUC research from June, the UK is currently ranked second last among G7 economies in terms of green infrastructure and job creation.
The TUC’s claims are false, according to the Department for Business, Energy, and Industrial Strategy, and their methodology is not recognised.
It claims to be considering the recommendations of an independent report on the future of green jobs.
“In recent months, we’ve secured record investment in wind power, published a world-leading Hydrogen Strategy, pledged £1 billion in funding to support the development of carbon capture, and launched a landmark North Sea Transition Deal – the first G7 nation to do so – that will protect our environment, generate huge investment, and create and support thousands of jobs,” the department said.
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Steel industry jobs are at risk, according to the union, because the manufacturing process relies on high-temperature coal combustion.
Other countries, such as Sweden, are already bringing to market new technologies that enable steel production without the use of coal.
Hybrit, a joint venture between Swedish firms SSAB, LKAB, and Vattenfall, made its first delivery of green steel in August, using hydrogen from water electrolysis with renewable electricity, while another firm, H2 Green Steel, plans to open a hydrogen plant in 2024.
SSAB has now formed a collaboration with Mercedes-Benz to incorporate fossil-free steel into vehicle production as soon as possible. By 2039, the German automaker wants its entire fleet to be carbon-neutral throughout the supply chain.
According to the TUC’s analysis, the following jobs are at risk:
- 26,900 jobs in iron and steel
- 41,000 jobs in glass and ceramics
- 63,200 jobs in chemicals
- 18,000 jobs in textiles
- 79,000 jobs in rubber and plastics
- 15,500 jobs in paper, pulp and printing
- 7,800 jobs in refineries
- 7,400 jobs in wood products
- 900 jobs in cement and lime
According to the report, the UK’s green recovery investment is currently a quarter of that of France, a fifth of that of Canada, and 6% of that of the United States.
The clock is ticking for the UK, according to TUC general secretary Frances O’Grady: “With the loss of industry and jobs, Thatcher devastated Britain’s industrial heartlands. Boris Johnson is on the verge of doing the same.”
She warned that unless the government urgently increases investment in green technology and industry, the UK risks losing hundreds of thousands of good jobs to competing nations.
“If we act quickly, we can still protect Britain’s industrial heartlands,” Ms O’Grady said.
“The government should increase investment to at least the G7 average and fully support the Green Jobs Taskforce plans.”
Unions and CEOs aren’t always on the same page, but when it comes to paving the way for a greener future, they’re mostly on the same page.
They argue that the government should do more to plan and fund what is being referred to as a “industrial revolution,” warning that the UK may lose out to other countries that are investing more heavily.
Revolutions are rarely bloodless. The transition to a net-zero economy will inevitably have some impact on traditional jobs, especially in polluting industries. That’s spelt out in the government’s Green Jobs Taskforce report from July.
So it’s a delicate time. The extent of the impact will depend on the policy decisions we make now.
On whether sectors such as the steel industry can be persuaded that there is a tasty enough “carrot” to go green, such as incentivizing demand for a greener product or additional funding. And that the “stick,” in the form of any policy aimed at forcing them to go net-zero, will not be used too harshly.
The government faces a difficult road ahead. The United Kingdom has made a legally binding commitment to cease contributing to climate change by 2050.
However, at a time when the global pandemic has left the UK with high levels of public debt, this will come at a massive financial cost.
With all of this in mind, the government will provide more details on how the transition to net-zero will take place and how it will be funded in its Net Zero Strategy, which will be released ahead of the COP26 summit at the end of October.
‘The UK isn’t even putting our toe in the water’
Alan Coombs, 56, is a community union representative at the Port Talbot steelworks, the UK’s largest steel production plant, employing approximately 4,000 people.
Mr. Coombs has been with the company for 40 years. He is concerned that the UK is lagging behind Europe because no new technologies have been implemented and the workforce has not received feedback on conversations owner Tata Steel has with the government.
“Overseas companies are already setting target dates for green steel, but the UK isn’t even dipping our toe in the water, and everyone in the community is concerned,” he told the BBC.
“We need to have a strategy for what it looks like – how we’re going to make steel in the future.”
He believes that without government support, no company will be able to deliver new technologies because it will be prohibitively expensive.
Most importantly, he believes that speed is critical: “We need to determine what it looks like for us and get on with it – because, environmentally, I think most every industry realises it has to change.”
“Because we aren’t involved in the debates, you can imagine that people are wondering, ‘Where am I going to work?'” What will happen to the plant where I work… and what will the future look like?”
‘We have to make that adjustment’
Prof Jagjit Chadha, director of the National Institute of Economic and Social Research (NIESR), criticises the TUC’s analysis, pointing out that the UK has “made significant progress since 1990” in reducing carbon emissions.
“In the UK, we’re almost halfway there as of last year, aided inadvertently by the Covid crisis,” he said.
He is unsure whether it is possible to determine whether the UK has lost its competitiveness in international trade, especially given that other countries emit more pollution than the UK.
He also claims that the UK falling behind other nations in net-zero targets affects only “a very small fraction of people,” namely 2-3% of the labour force.
However, he believes that all industries will eventually have to go green and advocates for government policies that “promote the rotation of the economy away from one that emits carbon emissions to one that does not.”
When the UK was a member of the EU, it received about £7 billion per year from the European Investment Bank, which led to £20 billion in investment per year; now, the government must find investment to replace that, and this must be a long-term economic strategy.
“If we think about it over the next ten years, we’re talking about public and private investment public together, probably in the region of £200 billion,” he said.