Underfunding and staff shortages risk undermining UK’s net zero target, say workers

"We can't solve environmental problems or net zero unless we have people to do the work”

Failure to properly fund and staff the climate change and environment sector risks seriously undermining the government’s net zero pledge, workers in the industry have stressed.

Workers have raised concerns about working in nature and environmental roles after expressing feeling over-worked and undervalued in their jobs. A crisis in expert staffing and low pay are among the challenges facing those at the frontline of tackling the climate crisis in the UK.

In a survey by the trade union Prospect, who represents experts in specialist roles, members working in environmental roles expressed frustration with bureaucracy, saying resources were being misdirected to the wrong priorities as supposed to supporting the core environmental mission.

Increased burn out due to low staffing levels and a lack of career progression have also raised concerns that the sector is failing to provide a stable career prospect for workers.

Over half (57%) of members surveyed found administrative work in job roles had increased over the past 12 months, along with four in ten respondents reporting expert staffing being cut back in their workplace.

Untrained staff being assigned tasks was another challenge reported by 36% of those surveyed, revealing a crisis in expert environmental staffing. With more than two-thirds thinking overall staffing levels were too low.

Of those surveyed, most of whom are highly qualified with one in five having a PhD or equivalent, 38% are earning £30,000 or less. Low pay was also found to disproportionately affect women in the sector.

One respondent wrote: “I really like the people I work with and the value of the work I do, but I could be paid 4 times as much for my skills in a different industry – one that is bad or indifferent to the environment.

“We can’t solve environmental problems or net zero unless we have people to do the work.”

Senior deputy general secretary of Prospect, Sue Ferns, accused the government of failing to adequately fund the sector, which is critical in delivering the UK’s net zero ambition and the government’s nature commitments.  

“The insights provided by our expert members are invaluable to understanding what is happening on the front line of the fight to tackle the climate crisis,” said Fern.

“They are telling us that the paring back of expert roles in their teams is leaving them increasingly burnt out.

“Despite the government talking up the potential of green jobs, it is failing to put in place the funding needed to make working in the natural environment the aspirational career that it should be.”

The survey of over 500 Prospect members include workers from the Joint Nature Conservation Committee, National Trust, Natural England and the Environment Agency.  

Tory MP’s have been rallying the Prime Minister to hold a referendum on the government’s 2050 net zero target, demanding for the date to be pushed back.

This is despite the UK public overwhelmingly backing environmental action and net zero, with even 73% of Tory voters saying they support the government’s current target in the latest polling. Hugely undermining the anti-net zero Tory agenda also backed by certain, predictable media outlets.

Politicians and campaigners recently launched an ambitious five-point plan called the Nature 2030 campaign, which hopes to restore nature in the UK over the next eight years.

The plan includes a large investment in the environmental sector with a focus on a large-scale green jobs creation scheme to open up thousands of green jobs.

Hannah Davenport is news reporter at Left Foot Forward, focusing on trade unions and environmental issues

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