Green jobs: are they really too good to be true?

A summary of why it seems like green investment and jobs could solve all (ok, almost all) our problems.

Faiza Shaheen is senior researcher on economic inequality at the New Economics Foundation

There’s something about green jobs that sets off a very British ‘believe it when I see it’ reaction in a lot of people I talk to. It’s the kind of scepticism usually reserved for predictions of a hot summer: it sounds too good to be true, so it probably is.

The fact that key green investment schemes, like the government’s New Green Deal (derided daily in the papers as a rip off for taxpayers), have failed to deliver is undoubtedly a major factor in this. But the way I see it, our labour market is in crisis; we need something to believe in.

At a session I’m chairing at this Saturday’s CLASS conference, we’ll examine whether green investment – with the multiple promises of good jobs for non-graduates, re-balancing and carbon reduction it is argued they would bring – is a pipe dream. Below is a summary of why it seems like green investment and jobs could solve all (ok, almost all) our problems.

Green investment: Filling the good jobs gap

We have an hour-glass shaped jobs market. This is feeding income polarisation across society and corroding our well-being. Our economy is increasingly dominated by the service sector which tends to deliver highly skilled jobs at the top of the pay scale – primarily for graduates – and low skilled, insecure and dismally paid jobs at the bottom for everybody else. The middle part of the jobs spectrum, formally filled with semi-skilled and manufacturing jobs, is being hollowed out.

As such, there are fewer vocational training opportunities with real career prospects for the 55 per cent of our young people who can’t afford or don’t want to go to university.

This is one of the most attractive reasons for substantially ramping up investment in greening the economy. Although green jobs won’t solve the scandal of low wages and poor employment conditions in the hospitality, care and other sectors, they will open up new options for thousands of non-graduates across the country. Erecting wind turbines, building and installing solar panels, retrofitting buildings; these are all hands on, rewarding jobs that you don’t need a pricey degree to excel in. And they’ve got prospects – offering positions to fit all career levels, from apprentice to business manager.

Green investment: Rebalancing our economic geography

The allure of green investment is further heightened because of its potential to re-balance the economy – both sectorally and regionally. Unlike the services sector, where all the best jobs swarm to London and the South East, green investment is unlikely to be so regionally biased. This is good news for the Midlands and the North of the country, which have both suffered more from the recession and slow recovery and are in desperate need of a lift.

Green investment: Helping us to kick our carbon habit

It is essential we unlink economic success from high carbon, environmentally damaging production. Green investment is the driving force that can achieve this, setting up the infrastructure we need for an energy efficient, low carbon future.

… So why don’t we have more green investment?

What is written above may only confirm the default position that green jobs are too good to be true. But while the positive impacts of green investment and jobs are only possibilities for the UK, it is reality elsewhere. In Germany, the national infrastructure bank KfW is investing heavily in renewable energy and energy efficiency projects with a commitment of 100 billion (approx. £85 billion) over 5 years. South Korea have also invested heavily in a Green New Deal programme that has created nearly 1 million jobs – enough jobs to eradicate youth unemployment in the UK.

It wouldn’t be fair to say that the UK government has done nothing, but in comparison our efforts have been measly. The UK Green Investment Bank has only £3 billion to hand, less than 4 per cent of the German KfW budget.

It seems to me that public investment in the green economy and jobs is a no brainer. My question to Saturday’s panellists, including Natalie Bennett (Green Party), Natan Doron (Fabian Society), Mark Rowlinson (United Steelworkers’ Union, Canada) and Hilary Wainwright (Red Pepper Magazine), will be: if green investment can really deliver how can we persuade politicians to put taxpayers’ money where the jobs are?

2 Responses to “Green jobs: are they really too good to be true?”

  1. Joedal

    “if green investment can really deliver how can we persuade politicians to put taxpayers’ money where the jobs are?”
    Shouldn’t that be if green investment can really deliver how can we persuade taxpayers to put money where the jobs are?
    Why do you still bother with the politicians? Because you know most of us (us people out here in the real world) taxpayers won’t go along with you. So you soldier with the fraud and get the politicians to give it the green (sic) light because you think they are already on your side.

  2. theduckman

    You would need to nationalize energy in order to do green investment. Otherwise, energy companies will just put their prices up in protest. There also needs to be money to do this- this can come from the profits of nationalized companies

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