Net Zero plan needed to smooth transition for Red Wall regions

Nearly ten million jobs from carbon-intensive industries in the UK could be disrupted in the next three decades as a result of the transition to net zero.

That is according to a new report from the Onward think tank, which claims that, whilst progress has been made, there will increasingly be geographic, political and economic trade offs that need to be better understood and mitigated.

Research shows that the UK’s least prosperous regions disproportionately rely on heavily emitting industries for jobs at present. For example, the East Midlands has the highest proportion of jobs in high emitting industries, at 42 per cent. In contrast, London and the South East have the lowest proportion of jobs in high emitting industries, with 23 per cent and 34 per cent respectively. Onward finds that, in total, 52 per cent of high emitting jobs are located in the North, Midlands (19 per cent) and Scotland (nine per cent).

Additionally, there is a strong correlation between the political battlegrounds of recent elections, and the areas with the most high emitting jobs. The research claims that the seats that make up the so-called Red Wall in the North and the Midlands, which were targeted at the last election and which will form the key battleground at the next election, are likely to suffer the highest levels of disruption of any constituencies. It argues that 43 per cent of workers in the Red Wall work in currently high-emitting industries, compared to an average of 37 per cent for Conservative and Labour seats outside the Red Wall. Liberal Democrat seats have the lowest proportion of high emitting jobs – just 32 per cent on average.

The Getting to Zero research report marks the launch of a major cross-party programme of research  to understand the political and practical challenges to achieving net zero by 2050, and to develop policies to help people and places who may be disrupted in the transition. The research will spend the next nine months ahead of COP26 looking at three aspects of the net zero transition: how to decarbonise incumbent industries; how to retrain and upskill workers at risk of disruption; and how to create the regulatory and financial conditions for innovation.

Ted Christie-Miller, author of the report, said: “Net zero will require more than legal commitments. It demands a plan that is not only practical but which smooths the transition for those people and places whose livelihoods are based in the carbon economy, many of whom are in the Red Wall battlegrounds that decided the last election and may well decide the next.

“The UK has an historic opportunity in advance of COP26 next year to develop lasting policies that can not only deliver net zero but which can carry the support of voters and companies through a titanic transformation of our economy and society. It must take it.”