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What Is Net Zero And How Can We Achieve It By 2050?

Details: Written by Kate Hutchinson |

When it comes to global warming policies, there can be a lot of jargon and hot air- no pun intended. But the UK’s 2019 law-bound commitment to de-carbonise all sectors by 2050, brought with it one critical question for the education sector.

How do we equip and train the nation’s workforce in green skills?

Last year, Business Secretary Kwasi Kwarteng outlined ambitions to implement 2 million green skilled jobs by 2030. With 80% of the UK workforce still likely to be in employment by 2030, the need to attract green skilled entrants, transfer existing skills and re-train for the green economy is at a crucial tipping point. (1)

This blog will explore how the power of learning can be harnessed to address the green skills gap and pave the way towards achieving net zero.

It will take about 8 minutes to read, and will cover the following…

    1. What does net zero mean?
    1. Why should we care about reaching net zero?
    1. Are we on track to hit net zero emissions by 2050?
    1. What are green skills?
    1. What are the barriers associated with green skills training?
    1. What are the benefits of green skills training?
    1. What green skills training does The Skills Network offer?

What does net zero mean?

Put simply, net zero is all about cutting greenhouse gas emissions to as close to zero as possible. The remaining greenhouse gases in our atmosphere can be re-absorbed by oceans and forests.

Why should we care about reaching net zero?

Science suggests that in order to avoid the worst impacts of climate change and keep our planet capable of maintaining life, the global temperature must be limited to 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels.

To put that into context, the earth is already 1.1 degrees warmer than it was in the 1800s. Whilst this may sound like a negligible increase, the repercussions of allowing the planet to get warmer are devastating.(2)

Under the 2016 Paris Agreement, in order to keep the planet below 1.5 degrees Celsius, carbon emissions must be reduced by 45% by 2030, so that we have the best chance of being net zero by 2050.

Are we on track to hit net zero emissions by 2050?

The short answer is no.

The United Nations believes current government plans, across all 193 Paris Agreement parties are falling short of what is required. (3) The top 7 global emitters were responsible for about half the greenhouse gases emitted in 2020. Most of these countries have large populations and rich economies, accounting for over 50% of the global population and 75% of the world's gross domestic product (GDP).

Top 7 Global Greenhouse Gas Emitters

    1. China
    1. United States of America
    1. India
    1. The European Union
    1. Indonesia
    1. The Russian Federation
    1. Brazil

Globally, greenhouse gas emissions have increased by 53% from 1990 to 2019. 2020 serves as an exceptional year whereby greenhouse gas emissions dipped globally due to the pandemic and a general halt on all production and global transport.

To break this down further, the energy sector serves as the largest global contributor to global warming at a whopping 75.6%. Energy can mean anything from transport, heating, electricity, manufacturing, construction and fuel combustion. Based on current global practices, the United Nations predicts that global greenhouse gas emissions will increase by 10% by 2030. (4)

If we look at the United Kingdom, our ability to reach net zero emissions by 2050 is severely limited due to our lack of green jobs and green skilled workers.

That’s not to say the UK has not made great progress.

UK governments have been relatively successful at reducing the amount of greenhouse gas emissions. In order to meet its pledged net zero targets, the UK has managed to dramatically reduce the amount of carbon it emits by 73.4% between 1990 and 2021. This significant reduction in carbon emissions is largely attributed to the closure of coal-fired power stations and investment in renewables such as solar, wind and nuclear energy.

Great Britain’s phasing out of coal energy systems has been fast-tracked by a whole year under recent legislation and will conclude in October 2024. This will mark the penultimate end to Great Britain's reliance on coal for electricity, which has gone from around a third to zero in just 10 years. (5)

The rapid decarbonisation of the UK power sector has hugely impacted the skills profile required across most sectors. From manufacturing, procurement, and construction to financial services, there is no sector that will not be affected by this considerable shift.

In short, the UK needs more green skilled workers.

The problem is, there is a huge skills gap that is preventing entry-level and lateral career shifts from fossil fuel to renewable energy sector roles.

A recent by Friends of The Earth found that 97% of offshore workers were concerned about the cost of re-skilling their workforce at an average cost of £1800 per year. Often, workers find that they will have to obtain overlapping qualifications and repeat past training, making the transition an often unappealing and expensive move for employers and employees alike. (6)

By anticipating green skills gaps, the education sector can help meet the needs of the labour market which in turn is vital to boost economic development and achieve levelling up.

What are green skills?

Although green jobs and green skills are notoriously hard to define, the UK government classes green jobs as anyone who is involved in the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions. Green skills are the competencies that everyone needs to deliver in all these areas.

You could argue that we all have a responsibility to reduce our carbon emissions, and that green skills are for everybody not just for skilled employees.

Nevertheless, green skills are in increasingly high demand. Between 2016 and 2021, job postings listing green skills grew by 8%, outpacing the 6% growth of individuals with green skills.

This green skills gap is a notable concern for multiple sectors.

Now let's look at our renewable energy example again.

Currently, the UK supports over 67,000 renewable energy jobs. Green jobs in this sector can be split into 4 main categories. They span over the wind, solar, hydropower, hydrogen, nuclear, bio-energy, carbon capture utilisation and storage and finally, tidal.

Green Jobs Categories:

    1. Manufacturing
    2. Making renewable energy parts
    1. Construction and Engineering
    2. Building renewable energy outlets such as wind farms
    1. Maintenance
    2. Retrofitting, repairing, refurbishing and upgrading renewable energy outlets
    1. Data Analysts and Digital Specialists
    2. Tracking and reporting on the performance of renewable energy outlets

The renewable power sector is expected to grow by roughly 80,000 more employees by 2040. Offshore wind employment alone, is anticipated to increase by 170% by 2026 (70,000 employees).

The primary skills gaps for the renewable energy sector lie in the upskilling of around 270,000 existing British oil and gas refinery workers. With around 20% of those expected to retire by 2030, the demand for new skilled industry entrants to plug the gap in the renewable energy workforce is huge. (7)

According to research, demand is already building to create a pipeline of green skilled talent, with a 3.5% increase in the advertisement of green jobs in the electricity and gas sector recorded from 2020 to 2021. (8)

The workplace has seen a 142% increase in the demand for “green” knowledge in employment over the last five years, with hard skills in Sustainability, Environment Health and Safety and Auditing now critically needed. This, alongside a growing green sector, is demanding skills in practical “how to do” sustainability and pushing ITPs and educators to step up to the mark in green skills training.

What are the barriers associated with green skills training?

With sustainability now classed as the fourth functional skill after Maths, English and Digital, the demand for green skills and greenified jobs is robust and continuously accelerating. (9) The Strategic Development Fund (SDF) has pledged £92 million for the advancement of green skills training in the UK.

And yet, there are some significant barriers between the UK and achieving net zero by 2050.

Here we will explore just 2 of these barriers……

The UK workforce lacks a basic understanding of what green skills are

A recent Learning and Work Institute study found that UK adults lack confidence in taking basic action to reduce their personal carbon footprint. In fact, Googling ‘how do I reduce my carbon footprint?’ will produce over 27 million responses, suggesting that this is a much wider issue.

A staggering 63% of adults said they do not know what green skills are and only 21% could list some green skills that employers require in the current labour market. (10) Perhaps more concerning, is the lack of understanding from young people when it comes to the importance of green skills.

According to a recent Youthsight survey of 16-24-year-olds, 55% strongly disagreed with the statement “ I know what green skills employers require within the current labour market”. Whereas, just over 1 in 5 (22%) said they either strongly agreed or agreed with the same statement. (11)

Dr Neil Bentley-Gockmann OBE, CEO of World Skills UK stated:

“A lack of awareness on green jobs and what qualifications can support progression in these roles is thwarting young people’s aspirations for careers that can combat climate change and drive clean growth”

“Green jobs and green skills is yet to resonate with young people, despite their commitment to sustainability”. (12)

These facts highlight the scale of the work that needs to be done regarding essential green skills awareness in order to achieve net zero by 2050.

UK employers can't find enough green skilled workers to train others

The National Open College Network’s (NOCN) new report, Greening the UK, estimates that of the potential new occupations required to meet net zero, the largest share is in construction. Construction workers will be tasked with, among other things, retrofitting the country’s 29 million buildings as well as ensuring they are all sufficiently insulated.

The Climate Change Commission (CCC) has uncovered that green skills gaps are most prominent in the heat pump and energy efficient installation sub-sector. A recent survey of the installer industry found that 43% of installers had no experience at all in installing heat pumps and only 42% said they would be confident in installing one. (13). This example demonstrates the dire shortage of green skilled workers who can help with training others.

A source from the Department for Education stated:“The challenge is, we are struggling as a country to find enough people to do these new green jobs, never mind to teach these skills to others,”. (14)

Whilst the SDF has poured significant funding into green skills training, colleges are hitting a common roadblock when it comes to delivering their green skills training provision.

Stella Raphael Reeves, Vice Principal for Higher Education and Business Partnerships stated: “We’ve got stuck because we have no one to teach [the course]”. (15)

The UK appears to be stuck in an exhaustive circle, whereby it must first solve the question of ‘who will educate the educators?’ before tackling ‘how do we achieve net zero?’.

What are the benefits of green skills training?

Much of the UK workforce has been trained in organisations whereby the economic output is prioritised with little consideration of climate impact. Having said this, many companies are now understanding the value of greening their workforce in order to reach net zero targets.

Here we will explore, 2 key benefits…..

1) Green skills training can help future-proof your workforce

Emerging green technologies require an emerging green workforce to maintain them. Nowhere is this approach more important or urgent than in the construction sector.

For every 100 construction workers transitioning into a non-green job, there are just 47 workers transitioning into green jobs, leaving behind a significant skills gap. In order to address the shortfall, the construction industry would need to make radical changes to skills development at speed and at scale in order to meet net zero.

Tim Balcon, Chief Executive of the Construction Industry Training Board states:

“There are some companies who are ahead of the game, building for the future, decarbonising their operations and upskilling their workforces. They are making changes they know to be right. The construction sector should build a skills system around these early adopters as the most efficient way of bringing everyone up to speed.” (16)

By investing in a green skills training programme, businesses across every sector can future-proof their talent pipeline, prevent skills gaps and edge closer to net zero.

2) Green skills training can boost employee creativity and innovation

There is a proven and longstanding connection between green skills and innovation. Many scholars have suggested that green training can attribute to ‘green creativity’.

72% of manufacturing employers ranked innovation and creativity as the most needed additional skills to achieve green and sustainable manufacturing. (17)

Additionally, LinkedIn Global Skills Report 2022 demonstrated how green-skilled workers are helping businesses drive innovation across the globe. In India, up to 60% of employees in startup businesses have green skills, ranging from the automotive to the farming sector. Similarly, in Mexico, LinkedIn data showed that 11% of Mexico’s start up’s have workers with green skills. (18)

What green skills training does The Skills Network offer?

As a leading independent training provider, The Skills Network can offer you or your business access to our full suite of fully accredited training courses in sustainability.

Our fully online sustainability courses cover key topics related to environmental sustainability including the control of global warming, reducing carbon emissions and efficient energy management, with embedded case studies and activities throughout.

The expert content has been developed to align with the UN’s 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDG’s), addressing the global challenges we face including those related to poverty, inequality, climate, environmental degradation, prosperity and peace and justice.

The Skills Network offers a fully funded Level 2 Certificate in Understanding Environmental Sustainability. We also offer a wide range of competitively priced and accredited sustainability CPDs that make a fantastic addition to any CV or skillset.

Speak to the team today about our sustainability training provision.

Read more about green skills.

Read more about sustainability as the fourth functional skill.

Check out our sustainability courses.

(1) Catch 22





(6) Deloitte




(10) fe news



(13) The CCC

(14) feweek

(15) feweek


(17) Makeuk

(18) LinkedIn