The UK can replace the roles expected to be lost permanently as a result of the economic fall-out of the COVID-19 pandemic by investing in green jobs, research from the advocacy group Green New Deal UK has shown.
The nonprofit, which campaigns to transform the economy to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, argues that the jobs in low carbon sectors could emerge across the UK, boosting regional economies hard hit by the crisis. Such jobs could include roles in wind, solar power, or in retrofitting homes to make them more energy efficient.
Permanent job losses resulting from the damage caused by COVID-19 are expected to reach nearly a million (992,757) in the next two years and nearly 2 million over the next 10 years (1,985,513).
However, with an investment drive, new jobs can plug the gap, Green New Deal UK argues. At a cost of £68 billion, the campaign group estimates that a total of 1.2 million jobs can be created in the UK inside the next two years — comfortably covering the jobs lost.
“Many people have lost their jobs and are struggling to find jobs due to COVID-19. But soaring unemployment doesn't have to be an inevitable consequence of the pandemic, especially when there’s so much work to be done averting the climate crisis and building a better world,” said Fatima Ibrahim, a co-founder of Green New Deal UK, and winner of 2020’s Global Citizen Prize: UK's Hero Award.
“Our green jobs data shows the massive potential for green jobs in every community across the UK,” Ibrahim told Global Citizen.
“These jobs are so much more than just building wind turbines and solar panels, it’s an army of retrofitters, carers, bike couriers, and teachers, up and down the country, all working towards transforming our economy,” she continued.
“But we must see proper government investment to kick-start that green jobs revolution,” Ibrahim added.
The scale of disappearing jobs because of COVID-19 is predicted to be similar to what was seen during the 1980s when the widespread closure of factories saw 2 million manufacturing jobs permanently lost, the report says.
Green New Deal UK refers to research from October 2020 by the Resolution Foundation, an economics think-tank, that reveals one in 10 people who have left the government’s furlough scheme — which paid the majority of people’s salaries for jobs that would have otherwise been lost — are now unemployed.
And the impact has been far worse for some groups, the report says: 19% of young people remain unemployed, as do 22% of Black and minority ethnic workers, and 22% of people who were in insecure work before the pandemic.
The jobs crisis needs addressing. But there is another reason why it's so important the government makes this investment, the campaign group says.
On April 20, the UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced that his government would speed up the country’s target to cut carbon emissions, putting into law a target for it to be 78% less than the emissions level in 1990 by 2035.
That target, along with Britain’s overall aim to hit net zero emissions by 2050, means the pressure is on to move away from relying on fossil fuels and create a greener economy.
By looking at the predictions for growth across different sectors, Green New Deal UK estimates how many jobs could be created with investment in green transport, energy, or farming, for example.
It shows that over 5,000 jobs could be created by building more plastic recycling plants, 24,000 jobs could be involved in the uptick of electrical vehicles being used, for example in building and maintaining charging stations, and a further 48,000 jobs could play a role in reforestation.
In addition to calling for more green jobs, Green New Deal UK also calls on the government to invest in social care work too — meaning increasing the number of well-paid jobs in elderly care and nursing.
They argue that the pandemic has exposed the gaps in the care system in the UK and because care work has minimal impact on the environment, it is a sector that should be invested further.
Age UK, a charity that campaigns for the rights and well-being of older people, argues that there is a huge unmet need in this area, with an estimated 1.5 million people aged 65 and over who don’t receive the care and support they need with essential living activities.
Digital infrastructure, for example, meaning improving access to fast broadband internet, will also help improve the economy too, by improving access to remote work, the report argues.
Christina McAnea, the general secretary of the trade union UNISON, in a statement in response to the findings: “Focusing on a green economy is the best way to get the country back on its feet after the pandemic. We’ll all benefit from a sustainable future with investment in new jobs and strengthened services."
“A complete revamp of the care sector is also needed if we’re to thrive. Creating better paid, quality jobs in social care with a proper career path will attract more recruits. This would also drive up standards of care for the elderly and vulnerable,” McAnea added.