Edinburgh Impact

Education is key to UK’s net-zero transition

Green skills and career pathways must be embedded into every part of education in the UK to help meet climate targets and ensure people thrive in a zero-carbon economy.

Worker fitting solar panels

Professor Dave Reay, Chair in Carbon Management & Education and Director of the Edinburgh Climate Change Institute

The green economy is booming. The events of the last 18 months have meant this revolution has arguably gone under the radar, but the world is beginning to invest heavily in technologies and infrastructure that aim to move us closer to the Paris Climate Goals.

Countries accounting for more than 70 per cent of the world’s GDP are now committed to net-zero emissions, typically by 2050. This signal to markets has seen major players such as Volkswagen invest heavily in clean-energy, while green investment funds received $178bn in the first quarter of 2021.

To meet the world’s net-zero targets, the annual production of electric vehicles alone will have to rise ten-fold and the number of charging points to fuel them needs to be 31 times bigger.

In the daunting contexts of COVID-19, the climate emergency and the nature crisis, realising a just and sustainable transition to net zero offers a real beacon of hope. But are the current and future workforces ready to ignite it?

Expert report

In the newly published Green Jobs Taskforce, which the UK Government commissioned and I was a member of, we lay out a raft of recommendations on what is needed and, in particular, how green skills and career pathways can and should be embedded into every part of education in the UK.

This is essential if the country is going to deliver on its commitment to transition to a net-zero economy, and if we are to equip our children and young people with the skills and insights needed to thrive in this climate-neural future.

The report calls upon the UK Government to use its presidency of COP26 to roll out a Green Careers Launchpad. This collaboration between industry, the education sector, and Government, should work together to ensure green careers advice and pathways are a lifelong offer for all. 

The Launchpad would provide comprehensive green skills and careers advice for workers. It should be agile enough to speak to regional priorities, help boost diversity, and allow timely responses to acute opportunities and risks arising from the net-zero transition.

Wind turbines at sea

Green economy

Even before people enter the workforce, the importance of climate action and green skills should be reflected in provision at all levels of education. The climate emergency bleeds across every part of the economy and every facet of our lives, so too should our response. The time is past for it to be compartmentalised in our learning.

Teacher training should include knowledge of climate change and the net-zero transition, with existing teachers likewise having the incentives and resources required to enable them to align learning and careers provision with a net-zero future.

We need more leaders from the green economy to be in our schools, training our young people and offering visible role models for potential careers. The report recommends that the Government should incentivise such industry participation, supplementing the salary of the worker seconded into a school.

We need to build clear pathways for young people to move from education into green careers. Therefore, the Government and exam boards should support schools to mainstream climate education into formal qualifications and appoint ‘Green Skills Champions’ in every school to underpin the provision of green skills and career pathways.

Training pathways

Great work has already been done on green apprenticeships. Let’s build on that by making sure every training pathway – traineeships, T-levels, internships and skills bootcamps – supports a diverse, inclusive and net-zero-aligned workforce across the UK.

In addition, education providers, employers and the wider public sector should incentivise young people to enter and move through these ‘green’ training pathways – with incentives targeted in a way to support the levelling up agenda and grow a more diverse and inclusive workforce.

And the opportunities that the green economy offers aren’t just for the young. Job Centre Plus provision should be expanded to include green skills, education and training opportunities and advice.

All this and more is needed if the UK is going to build the inclusive, high skill and zero-carbon society and economy that it not only aspires to, but needs to be. Like with most things in life, education is key to this greener, fairer and more resilient future.

Image credits: Tsvetan Ivanov via Getty Images; NiseriN via Getty Images.

The views expressed in this section are those of the contributors, and do not necessarily represent those of the University.