The UK government’s low-carbon industrial strategy, published today, sets out how the UK is to achieve the emissions cuts of 22 per cent by 2012 and 34 per cent by 2020 that the government has pledged.
Nestling in among the thicket of figures is the following gem:
“The UK low carbon environmental goods and services (LCEGS) market is worth £106 billion and employs 880,000 people directly or through the supply chain. It is estimated that over 1 million people will be employed in the LCEGS sector by the middle of the next decade. These are skilled jobs, with the average market value per employee well above the national average. The UK LCEGS sector is one of the few areas of the economy expected to maintain positive growth rates through the downturn and is expected to grow by over 4% per annum up to 2014/15.”
That number – 880,000 jobs – sounds very impressive. And it’s a number that has grown remarkably in recent years.
In 2002, the government estimated that environmental industries employed about 170,000 people and turned over £16bn a year.
In 2004, a survey for the Department of Trade and Industry, by its environmental industries unit, said the environmental sector had a turnover of £25bn, comprising more than 17,000 companies that employed about 400,000 people.
Gordon Brown told us in 2007 that the environmental sector employed nearly half a million people.
Then a few weeks ago, launching a leaflet on climate change to be sent to schools and hospitals, the energy and climate change secretary Ed Miliband told us the figure had shot up to 800,000.
And in those few short weeks the sector has put on another remarkable growth spurt, now reaching 880,000.
So the government’s target of 1m people employed in the sector by the middle of the next decade looks extremely modest.
Of course, these figures do not tell the whole story. The environmental sector has almost certainly grown, and probably at a rate outstripping the economy, in the past seven years, but it has not grown four or five fold as these statistics might suggest.
The issue is one of definition. The government has found that many more jobs now fit its criteria of being “low-carbon” or “environmental”. These include all kinds of jobs, from dustmen emptying bins and sewage plant workers to “green” venture capitalists. And you. If you work or invest in energy, you might easily have been reclassified as green without knowing it.
The real low-carbon jobs, meanwhile, are deserting the UK. Vestas is still intent on closing its wind turbine manufacturing plant in the Isle of Wight. Then there will be no more wind turbine making in England.
So much for green jobs.
Green jobs: some as yet unanswered questions (FT Energy Source, 18/03/09)