Last month, on the windy shores of Scotland’s Fife, a six-legged robot slowly crawled with feet sucked over the vertical blades of a giant wind turbine. This was a coup for British innovation. This suggests that robots can soon reduce the cost of maintaining wind turbines worldwide. But it’s also a sign that the Green Industrial Revolution will bring jobs to data scientists, engineers, meteorologists and mathematicians, but it’s not a must for the corps of welders.
Politicians hope the road to net zero will be paved with jobs. Because the next step in curbing climate change represents a catastrophe on the scale of the First Industrial Revolution. Boris Johnson’s 10 initiatives to remove the economy from carbon could be a turning point in the race against climate change. But it will also have a serious impact on some livelihoods and lives.
Mr Johnson’s plan details where the 250,000 green jobs he promised could come from. It lists 60,000 new jobs and 10,000 nuclear power plant constructions for the wind industry. The unions carefully point out that ten years ago their promise to create hundreds of thousands of new roles was not realized. Pastors need to be realistic about which jobs will disappear and which jobs will be gained in the transition process. They should be as ruthless about the onshore ring as possible.
The Prime Minister’s ambition to make the UK “Saudi Arabia of the Winds” fits the island nation with vast experience in marine engineering. Over the past 20 years, 2,200 turbines have been installed and costs have been reduced. However, most of the fabrication and construction of these magnificent structures takes place abroad.
In the Middle East, foundation piles were built for wind turbines 43 km off the coast of East Anglia. Some Scottish yards are likely to have been defeated by Southeast Asia in contracts to build offshore platforms and are now on the verge of bankruptcy. There are two factories in the UK that make turbine blades at Humberside and Isle of Wight.
Part of the problem is that Britain joined the race late. Experts say the UK subsidy system has driven manufacturing abroad by encouraging beneficiaries to minimize labor costs. The government aims to increase the proportion of British-made parts, but small British companies have found it difficult to compete with large multinationals in the areas of project management and engineering.
Sue Ferns, Senior Vice President of Prospect, a trade union representing energy experts, said, “Some of these job numbers will not be realized without a change in the way they actually are. She points to data that Denmark produces about five times more jobs per gigawatt of offshore wind power installed than the UK. This requires a “real industry strategy” with appropriate labor standards and a clear contract pipeline for companies to bid on.
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For young and educated people, the future looks bright. Renewable energy networks are complex, digital and serve a high technology role. Environmental consulting is a strong UK export. However, people who are older and lack skills may need help.
A fundamental part of Mr Johnson’s strategy is to decarbonize the way we heat our homes. This means pulling out the gas boiler and installing insulation. The payment method is still not clear. The GMB union, representing gas workers, opposes replacing gas boilers with heat pumps, which says it could increase fuel costs exponentially. Unions are concerned about how workers are moving to install and service heat pumps with their own skills and qualifications. This should definitely be a priority for government training.
The challenge for Net Zero is to mobilize both public sentiment and private investment. Polls show that the response to climate change is becoming more and more popular, but protests in France’s gilets jaunes remind us that green taxes are harming and environmentalism cannot be a bourgeois obsession with the poor. It will be difficult enough to convince a grumpy homeowner to change the boiler and tear down the common wall.
There are tons of moving parts, not a lot of resources. Mr. Johnson’s £12 billion includes £3 billion of new funding and only a quarter of the £2 billion that Rolls-Royce and its partners wanted to build a small reactor. Tensions are rising between energy regulators and businesses over investment in the power grid. While Johnson made electric cars at the heart of his plans, no-deal Brexit will make electric cars much more expensive, increasing costs for businesses and consumers.
Where climate change meets business, markets and politics. Take a look at FT’s coverage here.
The post-carbon economy will bring tremendous benefits. As the world is heading towards catastrophic climate change, prompt action is needed. But in order to avoid much higher costs in the future by taking action now, we should not underestimate how painful the transition can be for some of the people who have already suffered from the epidemic.
According to Deloitte, more than 100,000 oil and gas jobs disappeared between March and August in the United States, and some researchers have suggested that men in these industries are at higher risk of suicide. Some communities in the UK still recall the pain of ending coal mining.
Hope is the currency of Mr Johnson’s plan. However, the investigation of green jobs should be a detailed policy, and the fascinating future he drew should be as comprehensive as possible to achieve his vision.
The author who has served as the head of the Downing Street Policy Department is a Harvard Senior Fellow.
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