GETTING TO ZERO

Getting to Zero

Launching Onward’s new programme of work on the practical and political implications of net zero
Ted Christie-Miller
January 5, 2021
Getting to Zero
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Reducing carbon consumption to net zero is the socially responsible decision our generation has taken to help future generations; but we must make sure the impact of this does not aggravate existing inequalities in our country. This can only be done by enabling mitigation for those who will be hardest hit and taking advantage of the opportunities that are there to be grasped.

Dame Caroline Spelman, co-chair of the Getting to Zero commission

 

Poorer regions are more reliant on carbon-intensive industries

This report marked 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 analysis finds that as the UK goes further and faster to delivering net zero there will increasingly be geographic, political and economic trade offs that need to be better understood and mitigated. Two in five jobs located within the UK’s poorest regions are employed in carbon-intensive industries.

We argue that the UK has led the world in decarbonising in recent years. The UK became the first major economy to legislate for Net Zero emissions by 2050, prompting China, Japan, France and South Korea to follow suit. With the USA expected to join the club in 2021, more than three fifths (62%) of global CO2 emissions, and three quarters (74%) of global GDP, will shortly be subject to legally binding net zero targets. 

The UK’s manufacturing, industrial, heat and electricity sectors have all decarbonised by around half since 1990, the highest rates in the G7. Over the same period, China and India have seen their manufacturing and industrial emissions grow by 370% and 280% respectively and China’s emissions from heat and electricity have risen 540%.

However, when examining industries which contribute more than 2% of the UK’s total emissions, the analysis finds that the UK’s least prosperous regions disproportionately rely on heavily emitting industries for jobs, which makes them particularly vulnerable to decarbonisation.

  • The East and West Midland have the highest proportion of jobs in these industries (42% and 41% respectively), closely followed by Yorkshire and The Humber and the North West.
  • In contrast, more prosperous regions such as London and the South East have the lowest proportion of jobs in high emitting industries, with 23% and 34% respectively.
  • In total, more than half (52%) of high emitting jobs are located in the North, Midlands (19%) and Scotland (9%).

Politically, there is a strong correlation between the political battlegrounds of recent elections, and the areas with the most high emitting jobs – in particular Scotland, the North and the Midlands. 

  • 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.
  • 43% of workers in the Red Wall work in currently high-emitting industries, compared to an average of 37% for Conservative and Labour seats outside the Red Wall.
  • Over half of the lowest decile of constituencies by high-emitting jobs are in London.

The analysis also finds a strong correlation between rurality of a constituency and its reliance on high emitting jobs, with nearly half (48%) of the top decile of constituencies by high emitting jobs are classified as rural or towns, while just a quarter (25%) are in cities. 

The Getting to Zero research programme 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. It will use statistical research, polling and focus groups and engage a wide range of Whitehall departments, industries and campaigners.

This programme is kindly supported by:

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