Sci&Tech writer Nickolaus Ng discusses whether the UK’s net-zero carbon emissions target is achievable

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Images by Gerry Machen

Studies done by the Robert Gordon University (RGU) in Aberdeen, Scotland revealed that a majority of the UK’s offshore energy jobs will reside in the green energy industry by 2030. The review from the University noted that the number of green jobs in the UK’s offshore energy industry is very likely to increase from “20% of the offshore energy industry to 65% by the end of the decade”. This reflects a significant change in the nature of job scopes for many current workers in the offshore energy sector.

The move may be a concern for UK oil and gas workers who have worked in an industry that has historically produced oil and gas at a financially prosperous rate and provided numerous jobs for the local population. While this industrial shift inevitably phases out oil and gas jobs, there is a silver lining. As noted by Professor Paul de Leeuw, Director of the Energy Transition Institute at RGU and the lead author of the university’s review, the industrial move towards green energy should be viewed as beneficial. Due to many of the competencies in oil and gas being similar to that of the offshore energy industry, the skills of the oil and gas industry are transferable. He also encouraged that there will be “the opportunity to secure around 200,000 jobs in 2030 for the offshore energy workforce.”

 

Oil rig
Oil rigs like this may become a thing of the past. Image: kees torn @ Flickr

 

As a result, the quantity of jobs provided through the UK’s current North Sea oil and gas industry is speculated to decrease in time to 40% of all offshore energy jobs. The predicted shift towards the offshore energy industry comes amidst the UK government’s climate change objectives since June 2019, where the UK’s ‘Net Zero’ target came into force with the aim of reducing the UK’s greenhouse gas emissions by at least 100% as compared to 1990 levels. The aim is to achieve this target by 2050 and is with the hopes of fulfilling the objectives laid down in the Paris Agreement as signed and ratified by nations at the 2015 UN Climate Summit.

There will be the opportunity to secure around 200,000 jobs in 2030 for the offshore energy workforce

This displays the ambition of the UK government, but it is undoubtable that there will be difficulties in achieving this target due to the massive industrial changes needed. There may be a need to put in place highly stringent measures in workplaces to reduce carbon emissions. In fact, the National Audit Office has noted this as a colossal challenge for the UK government.

The UK government is facing surmounting pressure to create a programme of measures that reflect the UK being on track to achieving its ‘Net Zero’ target by the time of the 2021 UN Climate Talks, which will be held in November this year in Glasgow, Scotland. However, the costs of achieving ‘Net Zero’ are highly uncertain. The Climate Change Committee estimated in 2019 that the annual costs of achieving net zero could increase over time to around 1-2% of GDP in 2050. Darren Jones, the chair of Parliament’s Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy Committee (BEIS), called for clarity about the goals of the climate conference later this year. BEIS has provided its own calculations of net zero costs between now and the end goal in 2050, with this likely to be in the hundreds of billions of pounds.

The National Audit Office has noted that [meeting the net-zero target] is a colossal challenge

While there may be high costs, it is unfavourable to shy away from the ‘Net Zero’ goal, as this will result in the worsening of the already adverse impacts of global warming. This calls for urgent measures to be taken such as the building of flood defences for rising sea levels, and dealing with the health impacts of higher global temperatures. The Climate Change Committee has suggested there are also wider benefits of achieving ‘Net Zero’, such as improvements to human health and enhanced biodiversity

 

Without urgent action, we may start seeing scenes like this more regularly. Image: Keith Williams @ Flickr

While the pros of achieving ‘Net Zero’ outweigh the cons, it is questionable whether the UK Government will be able to achieve a target of such a high order. Criticisms about the UK government’s approach towards the ‘Net Zero’ target were unsurprising given the lack of a clear and detailed roadmap entailing what each government ministry would do to achieve this target. Meg Hillier, the committee chair of the Climate Change Committee, said that the “Government has set itself a huge test in committing the UK to a net zero economy by 2050, but there is little sign that it understands how to get there and after almost two years it still has no plan.”

There is little sign that [the government] understands how to get there

There has also been minimal coordination between the government and industries on how to decrease emissions, and the public has not been consulted much. Ed Miliband, the shadow business secretary, said that the government has encouraged the building of offshore windfarms, but has done little to help companies set up relevant manufacturing facilities in the UK.

If the ‘Net Zero’ target is to be achieved, there must be a quicker and more decisive approach taken by the UK government towards tackling this issue. The Prime Minister will need to anchor his Ministries to ensure that they are all in tandem towards achieving this noble yet difficult objective.


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