“We can build back greener, without so much as a hair shirt in sight.” So said the Prime Minister, in his typically ebullient introduction to the Government’s strategy for reaching net-zero greenhouse emissions.
On the one hand, we should be glad that the Government has finally published the plan, said Andrew Grice in The Independent. The bad news is that it is light on detail, and heavily reliant on Boris Johnson’s trademark “it will be all right on the night” approach.
He promises that the target can be achieved by promoting the development of wind power, hydrogen power, electric vehicles, and carbon capture and storage. These initiatives will transform the economy, he says, and help create 440,000 jobs by 2030; and by 2050, “in every part of our United Kingdom, there will be jobs. Good jobs, green jobs, well-paid jobs, levelling up our country while squashing down our carbon emissions.”
This is the “holy grail” of climate action, said Philippa Nuttall in the New Statesman: managing the transition to net zero in such a way that new jobs and industries spring up to replace those lost as a result of the decarbonising process. But is this something the UK is well-placed to navigate?
I don’t see why not, said Stephen Pollard in the Daily Express. We have a strong “science base” in this country, and our Covid vaccine success shows what we can achieve when our world-leading researchers collaborate with industry. We just need to put more money into research and development.
The transition to a low-carbon economy will certainly generate new employment opportunities, said Sarah O’Connor in the FT, but not all of these “green” jobs will be that desirable, or boost productivity. Recycling is a case in point: the “rate of fatal injuries in the waste and recycling sector is 17 times higher than the average across all industries”.
And though insulating lofts will require lots of labour, said Emma Duncan in The Times, these will be unskilled jobs involving a one-off effort. As for the idea that we can create a mass of new jobs from manufacturing wind turbines and other green equipment, experience suggests we’ll always struggle to compete with low-cost labour in Asia. Yes, our researchers may devise “whizzo, as-yet-unimagined technologies” to help turn the PM’s “hot air into electricity”, but even that’s unlikely to generate many jobs outside the Southeast.
If the Government is taking climate change more seriously, that’s a good thing, but make no mistake: the path to net zero, on which we have barely embarked, will be tough. We’re not about “to launch ourselves into a shiny, green, high-tech future”.