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The green green jobs of hope


News of major energy companies like Shell, BO and now Scottish Power’s Spanish owners Iberdrola pulling out of wind energy don’t bode well for green energy right now. But as government’s everywhere look desperately for green shoots to lead us all out of economic meltdown, there are still signs that the environmental services sector – and low carbon energy – could buck the economic trend and help lead the way to recovery.

The growing number of job vacancy websites featuring opportunities in the green energy sector is evidence of this. Look in places like lowcarbon.com and environmental strategy managers, renewable energy consultants, sustainable development officers and carbon offsetting researchers are being sought by public and private sector alike.

A glimmer of economic life is there in the sustainability and carbon abatement sector – and there are even signs that with targets in Britain of zero carbon new homes by 2016 and ambitious renewable energy and emissions targets for 2020, there may even be a skills shortage in terms of establishing ‘green teams’ to deliver Britain’s low carbon future.

Many of our environmental targets come from the European Commission and were conceived before the recession hit. But additional low carbon impetus has come from the need to drive ourselves out of the current economic plight. In the US, where the recession began, Barack obama was talking about green energy as an economic catalyst even before he was elected President.

He said at the end of 2008: ‘We’ll invest $15 billion a year over the next decade in renewable energy, creating five million new green jobs that pay well, can’t be outsourced, and help our dependence on foreign oil’. He was supported by Senator Barbara Boyer, the chair of the senate Environment and Public Works Committee, who said: ‘We need a tax incentive so people will put solar rooftops on, invest in solar, wind and geothermal’. All the signs are that now in office Obama is delivering on his promise. And others, including the UK government, are trying to follow suit.

The kick-start that green energy jobs can bring is certainly supported by the European Commission. DG Environment Commissioner Stavros Dimas said recently: ‘The Climate and Energy package is part of the solution and will enhance Europe’s energy security, increase the competitiveness of European industry and create high quality green jobs’. Europe, of course, has a big driver here – targets for the year 2020 to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, reduce energy consumption and increase the contribution made by renewable energy.

In Britain, an ‘energy gap’ is looming from 2015 when old coal and nuclear power stations start to shut down. New job opportunities in low carbon energy, be it wind, wave, nuclear or carbon capture, are possible. Green homes, too, offer prospects.

But industry will have to contribute to skilling the new green workforce – providing the needed investment in low carbon energy and housing is able to go ahead.. Paul Davies of UK housing contractor Wates told The Guardian recently: ‘Only if we get a long term, broad investment in green homes will the right personnel be found and trained on the scale needed for a dramatic reduction in carbon emissions’.

So the green jobs of hope await, building and managing wind farms, nuclear power stations and zero emissions housing estates, not to say working across the whole panoply of energy efficient technologies from insulation to smart metering. It all makes economic and environmental sense – providing governments, regulators and industry can work together to create the investment framework to make it happen.