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The economy is in turmoil and we are fast reaching the point of no return for catastrophic climate change. There is an opportunity to tackle both of these challenges, by making the necessary shift to a low carbon economy. Yet while efforts are being made to stabilise the economic crisis, the climate package is under threat. Rather than creating another bubble, the Government must invest in a sustainable, low-carbon future for enduring industries and employment.
Green industries have great potential in the UK, but currently, their development is a long way behind the market leaders. Take wind energy for instance. The UK is the windiest country in the European Union with around 40 per cent of the EU’s total wind capacity, yet we produce little more than 4 per cent of the EU’s wind energy. This massive under-utilisation of our renewable resources is reflected in the number of green jobs. According to government-sponsored research, the UK has, at best, 26,000 jobs in renewable energy, whereas Germany has 250,000.
Regrettably, there has been an historic lack of investment and incentives for people to study the subjects required by industry, for example engineering, and this has left our present workforce unprepared. Government research shows that 43,000 new jobs could be created in the wind energy industry, but without the skills and infrastructure to manufacture in the UK, these projections shrink to less than 7,000 jobs.
The EU is pushing the UK to expand its renewable energy capacity, partly as a result of legislation influenced by Green MEPs, and this could create the impetus to kick start the right training programmes. To meet EU targets, the UK must produce 15 per cent of its total energy consumption from renewable sources by 2020 and while this has been described as ‘very challenging’ by the government it should be noted that Romania’s target is 24 per cent and Sweden’s is 49 per cent. In fact, most EU member states have higher 2020 renewable energy targets than the UK.
Simply put, progress on the green agenda is being delayed by government timidity and lack of forward thinking. There are other challenges that need to be addressed, for instance in the planning system and the electricity grid itself, but given the right support the wind industry alone could be worth tens of billions of pounds and employ tens of thousands of people.
We currently have a serious green skills deficit. The Government needs to address climate change across sectors and ensure that our workforce has the knowledge to improve performance in their own sector as well as expand new green industries.’
As the green work agenda becomes increasingly relevant, success on green issues will translate into success in terms of sustainable jobs, skills and investment in industry and manufacturing.
Jean Lambert is the Green Party MEP for London and author of the new report \’Green Work – the climate change challenge\’