06How to achieve a fair transition

The transition to a net zero economy presents a number of opportunities. A key tenet of the Green Industrial Revolution, now dubbed the ‘Green Recovery’ in the context of the Covid-19 economic crisis, is that up to 250,000 green jobs could be created through investment in a low-carbon future, whether in transport, housing or industry. The retrofit challenge is a good example. It would help create construction jobs in places that need it most, and that have been most impacted by the economic shock- cities like Burnley, Blackpool or Bradford (Figure 16).

But successfully shifting towards net zero will require managing and mitigating the risks, especially in carbon-intensive sectors where jobs will either be lost or disrupted. Many of these nationally driven policies, whether on the phasing-out of fossil fuels or the further cleaning of industry are unlikely to affect all places evenly. Looking at the distribution of jobs in high-emitting sectors such as mining, manufacturing or transportation shows two things.

While they represent a higher proportion of all jobs in rural areas (16 per cent versus 12 per cent in urban areas), most (54 per cent) of these jobs are in cities and large towns, especially in the energy supply and transportation sector.

Second, there are stark differences between cities and large towns, too, and some will be more impacted than others. With the exception of Crawley, where a third of all jobs are in high-emitting industries (with 24,000 jobs in the transportation and storage industry), the 10 cities or large towns with the highest proportion of jobs at risk of being lost or disrupted are in the North and the Midlands (see Figure 16). Some cities with specific industries are likely to be particularly affected. For example, 36 per cent of all jobs (around 19,000) in mining and quarrying are located in Aberdeen, where a large part of the local economy is dependent on the oil and gas extraction industry.39

This confirms that not all places have the potential to reach net zero emissions at the same time. It might take longer in Aberdeen, Burnley and Crawley to cut down emissions, compared to Cambridge or Oxford, and the latter group of places should therefore be expected to reach net zero emissions sooner.

There are important implications for policy: in the most vulnerable cities and large towns where a higher share of the local labour market is at risk, moving away from a reliance on fossil fuels and carbon-intensive industries will require appropriate interventions, and substantial investment in skills, to help absorb the economic shock.40 This may involve, in the short term, providing targeted job support; and in the short to medium term, reskilling and upskilling workers, with a focus on workers whose skills are not immediately transferable, to provide them with the necessary tools to find employment in a greener economy. 

Figure 16: High-emitting industries are not evenly distributed across the country

Source: BEIS, 2020; ONS, 2020. Note: the industries defined here as “High-emitting industries” are mining and quarrying, energy production, manufacturing and transportation. Together they account for 57 per cent of carbon emissions.


  • 39 See for instance IPPR (2020), Net Zero North Sea: a managed transition for oil and gas in Scotland and the UK after Covid-19.
  • 40 This is the focus of the North Sea Transition Deal which aims at helping the oil and gas industry decarbonise while protecting jobs and supporting the green transition in the industry, for instance towards hydrogen production or Carbon Capture and Storage.