UK government pledges to promote 'green collar' jobs


The UK government has committed to working with businesses to nurture the next generation of 'green collar' workers, as the UK seeks to tap into a global green business sector estimated to be worth £350bn a year by the end of the decade.

The commitment forms part of the UK government's published response to last year's Commission on Environmental Markets and Economic Performance (CEMEP) report, which recommended a range of policy measures designed to accelerate the transition to a low carbon economy.

The response outlines UK government plans to develop a 'consistent long-term policy framework' that provides business with the confidence to invest in clean technologies and better foster the development of the skills required to build a low-carbon economy. A spokeswoman for Defra said that, while the report offered no new green policy commitments, it would serve as the 'roadmap' guiding government attempts to drive investment in low carbon technologies and business models.

Business Secretary John Hutton said there was a strong economic case for promoting the transition to a low carbon economy. "By the end of the decade, global green industries will be worth as much as the global aerospace industry - in the order of £350bn a year - and with the potential to create thousands of new green collar jobs in Britain" - he said. "So, there is a clear business case for maximising the opportunities presented by climate change and making sure that Britain unlocks these business opportunities."

He added that the UK government would help drive the development of these skills through its push to deliver an increasingly low-carbon energy mix and efforts to work more closely with the business community - such as next month's joint conference with the Royal Bank of Scotland on the actions required to deliver a low-carbon economy.

Matthew Farrow, head of environment at employer's body - CBI - welcomed the announcement, but warned that urgent action will be required to head-off a potential skills crisis. "There are some parts of the economy where the pinch is already being felt" - he observed.

"If you look at government targets for the installation of home installation and wind turbines, you have to ask if the there are enough people with the requisite skills to meet those targets." He added that skills shortages could also worsen as growing numbers of countries similarly attempt to undertake the transition to a low-carbon economy - creating international competition for people with green business and technology skills.

Farrow said that the market would help rectify the problem by driving up salaries and attracting more people to the sector - but, he warned that, taking years for people to develop many of the required skills, businesses and government would also have to co-operate to help increase the numbers of entrants to the industry.

"Like most skills issues, it will require employers and government to work together to deliver a long-term strategy capable of providing the skills we require" - he said.

Craig Bennett of the Corporate Leaders Group on Climate Change similarly welcomed the announcement, but insisted that the scale of the UK government's response to the CEMEP report remained inadequate.

"If you accept - as the government claims it does - that there is a strong economic argument for transitioning to a low-carbon economy, then we would argue for a far higher level of policy measures to stimulate investment and help pull us out of the current economic downturn" - he said. " You have to ask - where is the large-scale low-carbon stimulus package?"