Boosting skills for sustainability: how governments can make every job a green job

By on 04/03/2022 | Updated on 04/03/2022
Manchester’s Carbon Co-op trains builders to improve home energy efficiency – and helps them put their skills to use. Credit: Carbon Co-op

A major climate report has highlighted the need for green skills investment. Craig Burnett, editor at climate change charity Ashden, explains how governments can do it

Last week, a major report from the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change gave a stark warning of the dangers ahead. It revealed that 40% of the world’s people are ‘highly vulnerable’ to the impact of climate change, which are arriving much faster than most had previously thought, and said governments are failing to act fast enough on climate adaptation.

Within the report’s sobering analysis and urgent recommendations, there were frequent mentions of an area where governments can take the lead – backing the skills and training needed to create zero carbon societies.

Most strikingly, the report said boosting skills and knowledge across societies can help shift our response to the crisis from “incremental” to “transformational”. Given the widening gap between our actual emissions and the levels needed to keep people safe, a radical change of course is needed – skills can spark this change.

Read more: Governments are failing to act fast enough on climate adaptation, warns international panel of scientists

The benefits of action go far beyond reducing climate change, and include economic development. The International Labor Organization estimates that 24 million jobs worldwide could be created in the green economy by 2030. Managed properly, upskilling could address inequality by targeting marginalised groups – and compensating for job losses caused by the decline of polluting industries.

So what are ‘green skills’? The most obvious examples are those at the heart of our growing low-carbon sectors – the ability to install renewable energy systems, or to build electric bikes, for example. But these sectors also demand a host of supporting roles – in management, sales, IT, and other areas.

There’s also a need to make ‘ordinary’ jobs in other sectors as sustainable as possible. Ensuring employees can minimise high-carbon travel, design products and services in a way that limits waste, or manage the carbon impact of supply chains. Global, transformational change means we must make every job a green job.

Governments can create impact by investing in:

  • Closer co-ordination between the public sector, businesses and training institutions on green skills – ensuring courses and qualifications match the needs of frontline organisations.
  • Action to boost skills in disadvantaged communities and among marginalised groups, recognising that investment in skills brings immediate social benefits beyond lowering emissions.
  • Funding and powers for local and regional government. Local authorities are well placed to drive training that meets local needs, and to ensure the full benefits of this investment reach communities, small businesses and others. This will create further public backing for climate action.
  • Support for the proven grassroots innovation making enormous progress in this area.

Upcoming webinar: How to get to net zero: how governments can deliver climate commitments

How can government boost green skills in the UK?

In the UK, key climate challenges include upgrading home energy efficiency, and installing low-carbon heating. The country’s 30 million homes account for more than 21% of its total carbon emissions, and the government has admitted 71% of these homes will need upgraded by 2035 in order to meet carbon targets. But the UK is seriously short of builders and engineers with the skills needed.

Grassroots pioneers are tackling the problem. Manchester’s Carbon Co-op is giving contractors accessible and practical training to boost home energy efficiency, with an innovative and practical approach. Crucially, Carbon Co-op’s support also links builders with potential customers – bridging the gap between training and real-world work opportunities.

In recent years, the UK government’s stop-start funding for home energy efficiency has discouraged builders from acquiring green skills, and colleges from teaching them – as there was no certainty new skills could be put to use. Consistent government investment is key if Carbon Co-op and other organisations like them are to continue and expand their work.

A model for collaboration is the Michelin Scotland Innovation Parc Skills Academy in Dundee. This is a joint venture by Michelin, Dundee City Council and Scottish Enterprise – Scotland’s national development agency. At the site of an old tyre factory, this centre is training local people for roles including the design and manufacture of electric vehicles and wind turbines.

Bringing local and national government together with the private sector (as well as local colleges and universities) means skills development is fully embedded in the local economy.

Read more: From ‘wicked’ problems to brilliant solutions: how governments should work with energy innovators to tackle climate change

The global picture: skills for energy access

In less wealthy nations, a fundamental climate challenge is bringing renewable energy to people without electricity and modern, non-polluting cooking fuels. Around 700 million people around the world lack access to electricity, and about three billion to clean and safe cooking methods. For remote communities, there is little chance of grid connection anytime soon.

The spread of renewable technology (such as solar powered lighting and farming equipment) can help these people launch new businesses, store vaccines safely, and access education and information – all while setting countries on course for a zero-carbon future.

But a skills shortage is holding back clean energy businesses. With just 76,000 renewable energy jobs in the whole of Africa, there’s an urgent need to train up more engineers, managers, and support staff.

Pioneers taking action include New Energy Nexus Uganda. They help staff at community-based organisations become clean energy entrepreneurs, bringing products such as solar lights and safer cookstoves to remote villages far from the grid. This work has created 650 jobs, 70% taken by women. The organisation’s ‘business bootcamps’ are key to its success, passing on skills in technology, finance, management and marketing.

Many donor governments in wealthy nations are seeking to back projects that marry development outcomes (such as job creation and gender equality) with lowering global emissions. Targeting green skills can unlock a huge range of benefits.

From the UK to Uganda, support for frontline innovation can tackle the enormous dangers outlined by the IPCC report.

Ashden is a climate change charity dedicated to advocacy and research in the field of sustainable energy, including through supporting the winners of annual Ashden Awards. The 2022 awards are open now for organisations in low income countries, plus the UK. The deadline for applications is 15 March.

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About Craig Burnett

Craig Burnett is editor at climate change charity Ashden

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