London leads the fight against climate change, but cannot reach Net Zero without the workforce to bring about a low-carbon economy. Leonie Cooper discusses the skills required in London – along with the support businesses and colleges need to prepare for the future.
The urgency of addressing the climate emergency has never been more evident, with London seeing catastrophic effects from extreme weather, rising global temperatures, and the loss of biodiversity in our green spaces.
While the Government has rolled back on its promises on Net Zero, Sadiq Khan, the Mayor of London has set ambitious targets to make London a zero-carbon city by 2030. As a London Assembly Member and the Labour Group’s environment spokesperson, I want to make sure we reach this goal – but I know we cannot do so without a skilled and dedicated workforce ready to tackle the challenges of the green economy.
That’s why I worked with Business London to bring together over 100 business leaders, educators and environmental experts at City Hall. The challenges we are facing are not insignificant, but the insights of the group were outstanding – and I hope to share them below.
Strategic Insights: Nurturing a Green Workforce for Future Challenges
David Symons, from WSP, one of the UK’s leading green consultancies, underlined the significance of upskilling our existing workforce. Telling the group that he has worked with dozens of trained engineers throughout his career, he told the group that leaders in those projects need to move away from designing only to current needs because that won’t take into account the green changes demanded of businesses in the future. So businesses, leaders and governments need to provide these learning opportunities – and reward the businesses that embrace them.
Ryan Jude, one of London’s lead experts on green finance, told us how the number of specialist green jobs in London has been forecast to double by 2025 but, ultimately, every job in finance must become a green finance job. Without considering the impact of climate change, and whether investments will worsen those, finance professionals cannot make informed decisions about the strength of their investments. As our city demands more from businesses who otherwise might have a detrimental impact on the world, workers across all parts of the finance sector need to consider what changes they can make.
Asfa Sohail, Executive Principal and Chief Learning Officer at London South East Colleges spoke about the initiatives being undertaken to equip Londoners with the skills necessary for the green economy. Skills providers often have the ability to upskill our workforce, but without the right political leadership cannot harness the benefits of these courses as much as they’d like to. It is these programmes that are pivotal for workers across all sectors to get the most out of our transition to a sustainable, low-carbon future.
Governmental Leadership: Setting the Green Agenda
But all of our guests talked about the need for collaboration between government bodies, businesses, and educational institutions to create a comprehensive approach to upskilling and reskilling.
That’s why political leadership is so important. Governments, at all levels, can act in a co-ordinated way to institute green targets and set the conditions in which we can meet them. Shirley Rodrigues, Deputy Mayor for Environment and Energy, talked about how the Greater London Authority sets rigorous green standards in its multi-billion pound budget. This drives demand – but sometimes we struggle to recruit green professionals because Government has not prioritised green skills education.
Further to this, the Government has rolled back on its Net Zero targets, causing huge instability to businesses who had planned for the timeline the Government had set for our journey to Net Zero.
I was saddened, but not surprised, to hear great anger from those businesses. Many had taken the Government at their word and thought the market would demand of them a cleaner, greener operation, but now they will be competing against those who can undercut them by offering high-carbon, more polluting alternatives.
Outside of areas like London, where local leadership is driving the change to Net Zero, I heard concerns from education providers that the Government’s U-turn will slow the demand for the green skills they are providing.
That’s why we need to throw our weight behind demanding more of Government.
Urgent Calls for Action: Demanding More from Government
We need to prioritise investments in education and training programmes that equip individuals with the necessary skills for a green economy. Without comprehensive vocational training, apprenticeships, and academic programs in fields such as renewable energy, sustainable construction, and environmental science, we have no chance of reaching our Net Zero goals.
Government and educators alike can also do more to address the inequality we see in lots of green skills. Roles in engineering, consultancy or finance, for example, often suffer from a lack of diversity. Giving everyone access to green jobs is essential if we are to close both the gender and ethnicity pay gaps in the future.
I heard loud and clear that we need support for career changers or those upskilling within their current profession. By establishing pathways for workers – regardless of their age or background – to transition into green careers, or to make their existing career greener, we can staff our Net Zero projects. This could include career change courses, flexible training schedules, and specific skills programmes – all of which need sustainable funding from Government.
Certainty for businesses – and the education providers that support them – is also crucial. Those adopting low-carbon practices and technologies need the Government to be clear about their goals so they can have clarity when planning for the future.
Finally, they must change direction and stop fighting a culture war around Net Zero targets. We know climate change is here, and we must do everything we can to prevent it.
Investing in green, low-carbon skills is not only a moral imperative but also an economic opportunity. It will drive innovation, create jobs, and make our workforce more resilient in the face of climate change. By doing so, London can build a better future for our workforce and build a more sustainable, greener, and healthier world for generations to come. Businesses and colleges are keen to get going on preparing for our future – and we should support them.
By Leonie Cooper, the London Assembly Member for Merton and Wandsworth and Chair of the Assembly’s Environment Committee.