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Business energy policy review could boost green jobs

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ENDS examines how a streamlined approach to business energy efficiency could boost – or limit - job opportunities

The outcome of the Treasury’s ongoing review of the complex business energy efficiency landscape is now overdue. But when it comes, potentially in the March Budget, it has the potential to boost - or limit - opportunities for environmental professionals.

The review and 2015 consultation had long been called for by business. It is expected to result in recommendations this year for a single, unified scheme, or at least fewer, better coordinated energy efficiency and carbon emissions reduction schemes that should be less costly to run overall and potentially more effective.

So how will this affect career opportunities? Any new solution should tackle up to four different markets now covered by up to eight separate schemes ranging across energy consumption and carbon emissions. But it will also have implications for wider corporate sustainability.

Some job losses could result at the margins as duplication in reporting and other compliance tasks is eliminated. But this would be limited as many providers already tend to cover various aspects of these markets, often for the same clients. For example, many registered lead assessors for the Energy Saving Opportunities Scheme (ESOS) seeing a fall-off in work after the December first audit deadline are likely to be carrying out other energy management related tasks linked to roll-out of the ISO 50001 standard.

One of the biggest areas potentially affected is that of ESOS, covering up to 10,000 firms. But as this is a favourite to be maintained as the centrepiece of the new approach, opportunities here are likely to grow substantially.

Its functions could be widened beyond auditing to compliance with carbon taxes or emissions allowance purchases currently handled through the Carbon Reduction Commitment energy efficiency scheme covering some 2,000 organisations. Bringing the two together could also drive a more holistic approach by firms looking to cash in on opportunities flagged up by ESOS and cut tax and energy bill liabilities. As ESOS covers a wider range of emissions than CRC, this could also broaden investment.

But using the Climate Change Levy on businesses as a model for carbon taxation as proposed, is fraught with difficulties. It would need to address the fact that different sectors have different responses to taxation depending on carbon or energy intensity. There is little evidence it has driven investment or jobs, except in the case of carbon-cutting sectoral CCL relief agreements, and it no longer distinguishes between low carbon and fossil fuel generation.

The current specialist role of assessors in monitoring and reporting under the mandatory carbon reporting scheme could also be rolled into the ESOS-centred approach. That too could broaden areas covered in ESOS and opportunities for investment and behaviour change.

On the downside, the related but separate CRC and mandatory carbon reporting markets could see their career opportunities lost to the new scheme or schemes. The controversial CRC itself is thought likely to be axed, though the arguments for and against are finely balanced, with some evidence of progress.

To ensure no gaps compared to current coverage, the new approach will need to address carbon and energy efficiency monitoring, reporting, taxation and investment aimed at cutting energy use and emissions. It is possible some of this could be lost in the name of simplicity and cost-cutting, but there would be resistance from leading firms in the vanguard and from practitioners. But a smarter, more holistic approach could ultimately turbocharge action.

At the moment, business energy efficiency, along with renewable energy policy, is at a crossroads, awaiting a major policy shift. Get it wrong, and uncertainties that have nibbled away at investment growth in these areas could continue, and limit or reduce career opportunities.

But get it right, and it could overcome the lack of a coherent carbon price and split incentives between too many compartmentalised schemes. These activities could then become more mainstream in business, unleashing much larger action than we have seen up to now, particularly if they come to be seen more as part of the wider sustainability agenda.

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