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By providing the right opportunities and training, current workers will benefit from new opportunities and younger generations will not only inherit a better climate but also the means to thrive, Ignacio Galán writes.
The transition to net zero is a revolution for the entire economy. Every sector will undergo change, but energy will see one of the greatest transformations — and the greatest opportunity.
We are moving rapidly away from a dependence on polluting fossil fuels, towards clean forms of energy. Technologies like wind and solar PV, smart grids, and storage — both hydroelectric “gigabatteries” and lithium-ion batteries — are leading the way, supported by new solutions such as green hydrogen.
Now that the economic slowdown is urging all industries to identify new business models that can bring investments and jobs, clean energy emerges as a unique source of sustainable activity.
The scale of this transformation is vast in many ways, but it is perhaps most significant for the future of employment.
People, their skills and their labour are the key to transitioning to a greener economy and lowering carbon emissions. The countries, sectors and regions that best help workers acquire new skills quickly and effectively will be at the forefront of the transition.
The desire to lead is significant
The International Labour Organisation paints a compelling picture of a greener economy. It estimates that the transition will create 100 million new “green jobs” by the end of this decade.
Engineers, offshore and onshore construction workers, electricians, battery chemists and electric vehicle designers are just some of the roles poised for a surge in demand.
Business leaders seem to agree. Earlier this week, Iberdrola launched a new report called the Green Skills Outlook. Research carried out for the report found that business leaders are highly optimistic about the green transition, with 79% saying it presents more opportunities than challenges for their organisation.
Encouragingly, the majority (63%) of respondents also believe that the responsibility for leading the transition ultimately lies with them.
This desire to lead is significant. As decarbonisation commitments materialise, traditional fossil-backed industries will need to transform or decline.
Obviously, this will affect the activity of coal mines or oil wells, but other sectors along the value chain will need to adapt as well, like gas boiler makers. In other words, this process is not just the result of competition from more efficient forms of energy. It is not even driven only by technology.
Clean energy tech is not a threat
The energy status quo is no longer an option due to climate, geopolitical and economic reasons. Therefore, clean energy technologies are not a threat. Thanks to innovation and investment, they are bringing a wide range of opportunities for each local community to benefit from the change that is coming.
Now, it is the responsibility of both companies and governments to establish the conditions — the programmes, the support, the incentives, and the opportunities — both for the creation of new greener jobs and the pathways into them for existing and new workers alike.
At Iberdrola, we can talk about this process based on our own experience of transition over the last two decades. In the UK for example, we have helped oil rig workers to transfer and develop their skills as they move from maintaining or building oil platforms into building the offshore windfarms that are now a core part of the UK’s energy system.
Their know-how and decades of experience have helped us to accelerate the build-out of offshore wind, safely and at a competitive price for energy users.
From governments and policymakers, there are a range of ways to help support and accelerate the employment benefits of the green transition.
As climate and energy policies are being developed, one of these ways is to work closely with industry and education specialists. By fully understanding the challenges from a workforce and training perspective, actions can be taken on all sides to ensure maximum employment benefits can be delivered.
Bold policy action would see jobs grow
The Green Skills Outlook identified clear policy areas business leaders want to see supported. These include tax relief for upskilling and reskilling programmes and strategic funding to support the establishment of green skills courses in educational institutions.
But all are aligned to one pillar: to promote green investments that will create activity for 40 to 60 years through clear and stable frameworks.
When we look at some of the global crisis moments in recent history, governments have shown themselves to react quickly with bold new policies when companies, regions or entire industries have faced turbulence or decline.
The green transition would benefit from similar decisive bold policy action, which will not just protect jobs, but grow them considerably.
Companies must also do more. Cross-sector alliances will be key, as this transformation affects us all.
“Reskilling 4 Employment” is a good example in Europe. As a part of the European Round Table for Industry, made up of 60 of Europe’s largest companies, it provides reskilling opportunities to unemployed and “at-risk” workers, so they can find employment in new occupations that are in-demand and green.
Winds of change are coming
The last major climate summit, COP28, set the world on a path to triple renewable energy capacity in six years and phase out fossil fuels.
I can say that those present in the discussions and negotiations could witness the winds of change coming.
But this environmental and economic revolution will not happen without the right skills in the right place at the right time.
My experience proves that by providing the right opportunities and training, current workers will benefit from new opportunities and younger generations will not only inherit a better climate but also the means to thrive.
We have little time to lose to make sure that happens.
Ignacio Galán is the Executive Chairman of Iberdrola.
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