Martin Baxter: 'Career opportunities will open up for those with environmental knowledge and skills'

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The Independent Online

The House of Commons' Environmental Audit Committee is holding an inquiry into green jobs and skills. The inquiry is looking at how the UK can maximise the environmentally positive opportunities arising from changes in public spending intended to help tackle the recession. It is also examining whether the long-term national policy framework will encourage low-carbon investment and increase employment in environmental industries.

The Government's long-term target of an 80 per cent reduction in greenhouse gas emissions by 2050 shows this is a long-term issue. Interim carbon budgets to 2020, and a legally binding European requirement for 15 per cent of the UK's energy supply to come from renewable sources, means significant changes need to be made, and this must start now. If public money and investment is to be made available to back different sectors of British industry and to limit rising levels of unemployment, it needs to support moves towards a low-carbon and resource-efficient economy.

In our evidence to the inquiry, we have raised a number of issues that need urgent attention by Government. Much of the debate around green jobs and skills is limited to those employed in the environmental goods and services sector; this includes those working in environmental consultancy, supplying pollution control solutions, and increasingly those in the area of low-carbon and renewable energy. However, excluded from this debate are those in environment and sustainability roles in mainstream companies and organisations. We believe this misses a major opportunity to embed resource-efficiency skills in mainstream business.

The contribution from those in environment and sustainability roles in mainstream business will be essential if 2020 and 2050 greenhouse gas-emission reduction targets are to be met. While we strongly support the need to stimulate the supply of low carbon and environmental goods and services, there is insufficient activity to raise the demand side for these new goods and services. Environment professionals either directly employed or supporting mainstream business have significant potential to stimulate and catalyse demand.

We also believe much closer alignment is needed between skills development, business support and Government policy and regulatory initiatives.

New legal requirements on companies, the extension in scope of the European Emissions Trading Scheme, and voluntary initiatives to encourage companies to quantify and report their greenhouse gas emissions or determine the carbon footprint of their products/services, need to be supported with skills development programmes.

The UK economy will be affected by its transition to a low-carbon and resource-efficient one. There will be winners and losers. The winners will be those who invest in their people, ensure they have appropriate levels of knowledge about environment, low carbon and resource efficiency, and the skills to apply it. For some companies, the cost savings from using resources more efficiently will stimulate action. For others, a more strategic evaluation will be needed.

With an estimated 75 per cent of the 2020 workforce in employment, there is a huge task to up-skill and enhance the education of staff. Career opportunities for those with environmental knowledge and skills will open up in all types of organisation as the economy is shaped to be more in tune with the environment.

m.baxter@iema.net

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