Opinion: The clock is ticking...

Monday 18 September 2023

Paul de Leeuw
According to the United Nations’ World Meteorological Organization, July 2023 was the hottest month on record, affecting millions of people around the world. The changing weather patterns and associated heat waves, wild-fires, floods and droughts are the harsh reality of climate change and will now be a common feature for the future for our planet.

Against this backdrop, governments and society are facing increasingly stark choices on how to prevent, mitigate and prepare for the worst impacts of the climate emergency.

In 2022, the UK government published its British Energy Security Strategy. This wide-ranging strategy document outlined the country’s ambitions in terms of offshore wind, hydrogen and carbon capture and storage by 2030 and 2050 to meet the legal obligation of being net zero by 2050 (2045 in Scotland).

Successful delivery assumes the development of 50GW of installed offshore wind, 10GW of hydrogen production capacity and 30Mtonnes of carbon capture and storage capacity per year by 2030. The Scottish Government has also published its draft energy strategy, which is currently under consultation.

Although the UK has been a climate leader amongst international peers, the rate of progress towards delivering the nation’s 2030 greenhouse reduction targets (68% reduction versus 1990 baseline) and 2035 (78% reduction) is now seriously at risk. It is estimated that close to £200 billion will need to be invested in the offshore energy industry alone over the remainder of this decade to help underpin the 2030 targets. However, Offshore Energies UK – one of the industry trade bodies - it is projected that half of this spend - or c. £100 billion – is currently at risk.

The latest report by Robert Gordon University’s Energy Transition Institute – Powering up the Workforce – highlights that delivering the ambitions outlined in the British Energy Security strategy will see the UK’s offshore energy workforce numbers rise from around 150,000 today to close to 225,000 by 2030. However, the report reinforces that if the ambitions are missed, the number of industry jobs could fall to as low as 130,00. A combination of reduced investment in oil and gas, a slow-down of  investment and activity levels in renewables and less ambitious UK local content targets for new activities could potentially put up to 95,000 offshore energy jobs at risk by 2030.

The report also highlights that retaining the offshore oil and gas supply chain, its workforce and associated skills over the next five years will be crucial to delivering on the net zero ambitions while ensuring security of energy supply. This is because there continues to be limited capacity for the UK offshore renewables sector to host and accommodate the quantity of skilled oil and gas workers impacted by the predicted decline in the hydrocarbon sector until later this decade.

With the offshore energy industry currently representing close to one in every 200 jobs in the UK and around one in every 30 jobs in Scotland, the sector has a critical role to play in leading the transition to a lower carbon future. However, with the high concentration of oil and gas workers in the North-East of Scotland, this workforce could be disproportionately impacted if Scotland is not successful in fully capturing the full range of offshore energy activities and UK local content opportunities.

Even though the UK represents less than 1% of the world’s population and around 1.2% of the planet’s greenhouse gas emissions, the nation should build on its proud energy heritage and continue to show global leadership and be an exemplar in the net zero space.

The UK possesses all the attributes and resources to realise the ambitions set out in government strategies and forward-looking industry programmes. Although the clock is ticking, the Powering up the Workforce report shows that with cross-party political and industry collaboration, the UK and Scotland can achieve its strategic goals to deliver net zero, provide the energy security the country needs and significantly enhance the supply chain and workforce numbers in the UK’s offshore energy sector at the same time.

Written by Professor Paul de Leeuw, Director of RGU's Energy Transition Institute

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