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Now Hiring: Low-Carbon Specialists for a Sustainable Europe

Author

Laura Galante & Hywel Jones

Oct 6, 2023

Project INNOPATHS explores different forward-looking scenarios leading to a completely decarbonised Europe by 2050. How attainable are these pathways and what are the skills in demand?

When designing their innovation pathways for a decarbonised Europe, the team of the INNOPATHS (innovation in pathways, strategies and policies) project took the EU Green Deal’s objective to heart. The project explored different forward-looking scenarios leading to a completely decarbonised Europe by 2050. Each pathway to decarbonising the energy system has been analysed to highlight the economic impact of each choice. The project also developed online tools to help policymakers, industry, scientists, and other stakeholders understand the implications for the technological and economic transition (and the skills needed).

 

We spoke with the project leader, Paul Ekins, professor of Resources and Environmental Policy at University College London. “We were interested in the various ways that Europe could reach net zero emissions”, he says. The project’s web-based Low Carbon Pathways Platform (LCPP) provides easy access to the technological details of these decarbonisation pathways, from energy carriers to conversion technologies. Anticipating potential future scarcities will help policymakers shape the transformation to a climate-neutral economy.

 

Working with stakeholders from industry, policymaking and society, the project developed three future narratives:

· In the first, “New Players and Systems”, new companies and entrepreneurs come into the energy system with new technologies, bridging the divide between utilities and customers, changing both supply and demand in a more decentralised system.

· The second, called “Incumbents' Renewal”, assumes fossil fuel companies and big utilities adapt by pivoting towards renewable energy and carbon capture and storage. This supply-side transition would imply less infrastructure and consumer change.

· The third, “Efficiency and Sufficiency”, projects a future where lifestyles change to prioritise energy and resource efficiency, as well as health and non-material well-being.

 

These narratives were then translated into the quantitative scenarios accessible via the LCPP tool, using a combination of energy system models. “One model was run concerned with the electrification of industry,” says Professor Ekins. “Another model was concerned with the co-benefits of the CO2-reduction pathway through the reduction of air pollution.”

 

The project found that across all strategies and models, there are “no-regret” options, such as accelerated renewables deployment, increased electrification across all sectors, and bringing carbon dioxide removal (CDR) technologies and e-fuels to maturity.

 

“They all came up with more or less the same macroeconomic picture,” says Professor Ekins. “They all suggested there would be only a very small reduction in GDP growth, one so small that it wouldn’t be noticeable, and in most countries, you actually get a positive economic outcome if you put monetary values on the improvements in air quality that go along with reduced use of fossil fuels.”

 

Each narrative has different implications for the technologies and therefore the skills needed in the workforce: the “New Players and Systems” scenario is centred on renewable technologies, battery-electric vehicles, and heat pumps; “Incumbents’ Renewal” focuses on Carbon Capture and Storage (CCS), nuclear power and synthetic and bio-based fuels; circular economy and lifestyle changes are the main drivers behind “Efficiency and Sufficiency”.

 

“We had a specific work programme on the issue of green skills,” Professor Ekins says, “Obviously there are some technologies which will be much more used in some pathways than others.”

 

The project produced a policy brief on decarbonisation’s impact on labour markets and skills. In particular, the team found that increases in energy prices will tend to favour employees with technical skills rather than manual workers, and while this may have large effects on employment in individual firms, it is likely to have less effect for the economy as a whole.

 

“When you’re talking about getting to net zero, every single economic sector will need to decarbonise,” emphasises Professor Ekins, “and many of the skills that they will use to decarbonise will be the same skills they use at the moment.”

 

Even the switch from a diesel to a hydrogen bus would demand many of the same skills – from the manufacturing of the vehicle’s body to driving it in service. The biggest differences would be in the engine and infrastructure, although even here, “many of the skills that you would use to redesign the bus are very similar to the skills that you would use to design a diesel one”, he says.

 

Overall, while the project found that barriers to decarbonisation are not insurmountable, no matter the pathway, portions of the workforce would indeed need new skills. The European Green Deal should therefore make significant provision for retraining, taking account of the nature of workers’ existing skills and the distribution of green industries across EU countries and regions. Based on US experience, the project also concluded that green subsidies are more effective in regions with the appropriate green skills.

By examining different potential scenarios for future decarbonisation, and analysing the associated challenges and benefits, INNOPATHS is helping policymakers make informed steps towards a climate-neutral future.

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