As the transition to net zero continues to gather speed, one of the most important considerations is that the shift to cleaner, lower carbon energy is fair and just, making sure that everyone benefits – including the most vulnerable. Here Thom Thorp, Director UK Corporate Affairs, shares thoughts from a recent event on the topic hosted by National Grid.
National Grid occupies a unique position at the heart of the energy system and we’re using this to convene discussions on the challenges and opportunities arising from the net zero transition. I recently hosted a roundtable in Westminster, inviting think tanks, business representatives and campaign groups to discuss how we ensure the transition to net zero is both fair and just – leaving no one behind.
With the election illustrating that both politicians and the public have strong opinions on how we tackle climate change, the conversation felt particularly topical. These were some of the headline themes that emerged.
There was a clear focus on the challenge of decarbonising heat, so that our homes and offices can be kept warm using cleaner energy sources. Due to the scale of the task, and some of the trade-offs involved, this transition is particularly challenging. However, it was agreed that minimising disruption to people, while making sure that the most vulnerable were properly supported, was vital to ensuring a fair transition.
Other areas covered were the benefits and risks posed by a street-by-street approach to decarbonising heat – including what part local government should play in this – and considerations around who is best placed to communicate the changes and choices people face as we move to net zero.
To make sure the shift to net zero is fair to those employed in the industry now – including those in high-carbon industries who are considering reskilling – and to those embarking on a career in the energy industry, there needs to be a long-term policy framework. We need to encourage even more women into STEM careers, as well as engaging with the education system to help teach the skills required for a net zero future. At National Grid, we call this The Job That Can’t Wait.
It was suggested that local government could play an important role in mapping the skills and demand profile of local communities, while also convening stakeholders to plan for the impact of transition on the local labour market. An example of a specific regional project included the Humber, where National Grid is working in partnership to explore the opportunity to protect jobs by establishing the world’s first net zero industrial cluster.
Collaboration will be essential to meeting the country's decarbonisation goals and, with all eyes on the UK as it prepares to host COP26 next year, there's all the more reason to ensure industry, government and the regulator are working in partnership.
With change being the only constant in the energy industry, I’m looking forward to many more lively decarbonisation debates in the future.