The UK’s net-zero drive could create hundreds of thousands of new jobs, but this will require active reskilling and upskilling of key parts of the workforce, said the UK’s Climate Change Committee (CCC) in a new report at the end of May. It emphasised the need for stronger policies and government support to fully harness the potential of the UK’s net-zero target.  

Most workers – four-fifths of the UK’s current total workforce – will see minimal impact from the energy transition, it said, but certain sectors with a core role in the delivery of net zero will experience significant changes.

According to the CCC, two-thirds of these affected workers are employed in sectors that have the potential to grow during the transition, particularly in buildings construction and retrofits, and electric vehicle (EV) battery manufacturing

Another 7% of UK workers are in sectors that will gradually shift their products and services towards low-carbon alternatives, the CCS says, such as cement and steel. Less than 1% of workers are employed in high-emitting sectors, such as oil and gas, which are expected to experience a phase-down as extraction is reduced to curb emissions.

Overall, the UK’s net-zero target presents a significant employment opportunity, says the CCC, with estimates ranging from 135,000 to 725,000 net new jobs in low-carbon sectors – if active government support and investment in reskilling and upskilling initiatives can be delivered. 

Lord Deben, CCC chairman, said in a press statement: “The UK has committed to net zero. The only question is whether the government intends to get there in a way that benefits workers or leaves them behind.” He suggested net zero presents a “unique” opportunity to deliver “secure” employment and “for the government to bring real meaning to ‘levelling up’.”

The UK’s net-zero target is an opportunity to address economic disparities by directing investment towards economically deprived areas, says the CCC. Additionally, the transition to net zero offers the chance to increase diversity in historically under-represented sectors, such as energy supply and construction.  

Government intervention may not be necessary in every sector of the economy. However, clear policy direction and a responsive education and skills system are crucial, the CCC says. 

Without addressing jobs and skills, the UK risks missing out on opportunities to capture low-carbon market shares, the CCC warns. It points to the US Inflation Reduction Act and the EU’s Green Deal Industrial Plan as competitive risks to the UK in key areas such as EVs, batteries, carbon capture and hydrogen.