Ahead of the much anticipated Levelling Up White Paper, CPP's Research Analyst Ross Mudie tackles the burning question of 'what exactly is a green job' and why defining it will be integral to the government fulfilling it's pledge on levelling up.
We cannot hope to manage what we cannot even understand. Therefore, a lack of consensus over what constitutes a ‘good green job’ risks undermining the likelihood of local and national governments overseeing a truly fair energy transition as well as the goal of levelling up the country.
In light of the Covid-19 pandemic, there is genuine hope that the global economic recovery will be characterised by the development and expansion of the green economy. Here in the UK, Boris Johnson’s plan to ‘Build Back Better’ promises to “make our country a science and technology superpower, and the best possible place to create green jobs” with the Ten Point Plan for a Green Industrial Revolution.
The Ten Point Plan provides useful insight into the government’s thinking about the nature of green jobs. The Prime Minister’s foreword talks of “electric vehicle technicians in the Midlands, construction and installation workers in the North East and Wales, specialists in advanced fuels in the North West, agroforestry practitioners in Scotland, and grid system installers everywhere.” The plan also launched the Green Jobs Taskforce, whose mission is to develop plans for “new long-term, good quality green jobs”.
Yet contrary to the description used in the Ten Point Plan, the initial report by the Green Jobs Taskforce considered just the term ‘green job’, defining it as “employment in an activity that directly contributes to - or indirectly supports - the achievement of the UK's net zero emissions target and other environmental goals, such as nature restoration and mitigation against climate risks.” Note the distinct lack of focus on ‘good’, or ‘quality’ jobs within the plan.
Adding a job quality dimension, however, adds an extra layer of complexity to our understanding. The International Labour Organisation (ILO) broadens the definition of a green job, including the attributes of ‘decent work’ for a job to be considered green.  The Paris Agreement, also, insists that signatory countries must consider "the imperatives of a just transition of the workforce and the creation of decent work and quality jobs in accordance with nationally defined development priorities." Despite these developments, to date, there is no consensus over what actually constitutes a good quality green job – either internationally or within a UK context.
This points to a key problem in the government’s net zero strategy: there is an underlying assumption that a job which contributes to the ‘green economy’, will by definition be a good job and it is these jobs which will be the critical engine of building back better over the coming decade. There are two fundamental risks of banking on ‘green jobs’ in this way.
Firstly, these jobs are currently few and far between. The ONS’s most recent estimate of the size of the Low Carbon and Renewable Energy Economy (LCREE), its flagship green economy measurement, was just 202,100 green jobs in 2019. Being overdependent on the growth of this sector to support large parts of the labour market who are vulnerable to job loss amid the green transition risks exacerbating their displacement further and undermining the government’s ambition to level up the country. The Net Zero strategy outlines plans for 440,000 new green jobs by 2030, but contains scant detail for what they are and how they will be created.
Secondly, ensuring that roles are fairly paid and offer fair conditions of employment are integral to good work, and an absence of these themes in the government’s framing of green jobs risks leaving workers exposed. For instance, while an electric vehicle technician working in an automotive vehicle factory in the West Midlands is a ‘green job’, the potential act of agencies hiring temporary staff on zero hour contracts to fill these jobs wouldn’t represent the types of practices typically associated with the good work agenda. Such practices would also undermine the feasibility of the government’s levelling up ambition, by failing to support good job creation and re-employment opportunities for those who could lose their jobs as the nature of jobs in high emitting sectors changes, or industries decline. The importance of new green jobs being good ones is also key to a fair transition as jobs in high-emitting sectors are often well-paid. Indeed, new research by CPP estimates that the average weekly earnings for high emitting jobs is £680, compared to £580 for the rest of the economy.
Defining a 'good green job'
It’s clear that defining a good green job isn’t easy, but CPP believes that establishing a working definition can steer the debate towards policy decisions that better support the interests of workers, and encompasses a broader array of job roles that will be important as the energy transition takes shape. In this light, we consider a good green job to be “any job where the nature of the work supports the strengthening of our natural environment, that also supports workers and communities through fair wages and secure working conditions.”
For a role to be green, then the broad nature of the work should fall within one of these two general criteria:
- Jobs based in institutions that produce goods or services that reduce environmental impacts.
- Jobs which reduce environmental impacts through the utilisation of sustainable products or processes.
That takes care of the green element but for a role to be good, the job must also offer a fair wage and secure working conditions.
To take an example of each:
- in (1): this could cover both an environmental scientist or an administrative staff member working for a renewable energy firm with good pay and secure working conditions. The focus here is on their institutional output and its contribution to the green economy through secure employment.
- in (2): this could be someone whose work contributes to sustainability through the nature in which their work is conducted. So this could be a fisherman who uses sustainable fishing practices to support marine life and clean oceans, or a taxi driver who drives an electric vehicle rather than petrol. Each would again have a fair wage and security of working conditions.
The latter example is particularly important, because it goes beyond the narrow definition of the green economy currently being used by the ONS and is potentially applicable to many more workers. It might well be, for example, that those in high polluting jobs move into roles in the service sectors where there are vacancies. But these jobs must be good.
Defining and encouraging good green jobs is a significant gap in the government’s current net zero strategy. There is an urgent need to broaden our horizons on what a green job is and to develop a policy framework that considers job quality and security as fundamental to these new green jobs, while also empowering local leaders to play their part in delivering for their communities. If the government focusses its attention merely on a small subset of specialist green industries, while neglecting the quality and scale of employment, then their aspiration to truly level up the country risks falling short of what it needs to do in order to truly improve outcomes for communities across the UK.
1. HM Treasury (2021) Build Back Better: our plan for growth. Available at: https://www.gov.uk/government/...
2. Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (2020) The Ten Point Plan for a Green Industrial Revolution. Available at: https://www.gov.uk/government/...
3. Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (2021) Green Jobs Taskforce report. Available at: https://www.gov.uk/government/...
4. International Labour Organisation (2019) Promoting Green Jobs: Decent Work in the Transition to Low-Carbon, Green Economies. Available at: https://journals.openedition.o...
5. United Nations (2015) Just Transition of the Workforce, and the Creation of Decent Work and Quality Jobs. Available at: https://unfccc.int/sites/defau...
6. ONS (2021) Low carbon and renewable energy economy estimates. Available at: https://www.ons.gov.uk/economy...
7. Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (2021) Net Zero Strategy: Build Back Greener. Available at: https://www.gov.uk/government/...
8. Centre for Progressive Policy (2021) Leaving no place behind in the race to net zero. Available at: https://www.progressive-policy...