Getting to zero


This report from UK think tank Onward launches a practical policy commission to deliver decarbonisation in the UK.

This launch report for the new Commission programme argues that the UK has led the world in delivering net zero in recent years: The UK was 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%. But 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. Looking at the distribution of jobs in industries that contribute more than 2% of UK carbon emissions, Onward finds: The UK’s least prosperous regions disproportionately rely on heavily emitting industries for jobs at present. The East Midlands has the highest proportion of jobs in high emitting industries (42%), closely followed by the West Midlands (41%), Yorkshire and the Humber (38%), and the North West (38%). In contrast, 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. Of the top tenth of constituencies by high emitting jobs, 14% are in Scotland, 28% are in the North and 22% are in the Midlands, but just 5% are in London. In the reverse, over half (52%) of the lowest tenth of constituencies by high-emitting jobs are in London. Just 5% are in 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. Liberal Democrat seats have the lowest proportion of high emitting jobs – just 32% on average. The more rural a constituency is, the more its local economy relies on high emitting jobs. 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. In contrast, more than half (54%) of the seats least reliant on high emitting jobs are in cities, 44% are in towns and only 2% are rural.

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

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