Tepid start for Scotland's green jobs strategy

A discussion paper setting in train the preparation of a green jobs strategy was issued by the Scottish Executive on 15 June.1 The Executive sees huge opportunities in renewable energy, waste management and improving resource efficiency - but offers no new policy ideas for exploiting the potential.

The commitment to prepare a green jobs strategy was made in last summer's post-election partnership agreement between Labour and the Liberal Democrats (ENDS Report 341, pp 42-43 ). Like several other pledges in the agreement, however, it seems to be being pursued less than vigorously.

True, the rhetoric is impeccable. Introducing the paper, Deputy First Minister Jim Wallace rejected the idea of inevitable conflict between economic growth and environmental protection.

"On the contrary," he said, "there will be increasing opportunities for growth in the next few years precisely because of the demands for more sustainable products and processes. This strategy is about positioning Scotland to take advantage of that market for sustainable development."

The Executive's existing targets on waste and energy, he added, had given "our universities the encouragement to develop the necessary technologies and our companies the opportunity to carve out a lead in the marketplace - developing a new generation of green jobs in the process. By setting ourselves tough targets we can create a competitive advantage for Scotland, as more and more countries see the need to adopt similar targets of their own."

The Executive has also done some homework on the scale of the market opportunities in the three areas it regards as "big wins" - renewable energy, waste management and recycling, and resource efficiency.

A report prepared for the Executive projected that the offshore wind energy market will grow from today's small beginnings to 185MW in the UK and 3,250MW globally by 2007.

Wave and tidal power will take longer to come to fruition, but Scotland has more than 20GW of potential marine energy resources, already has some of the world's leading innovators in the field and, the Executive believes, "has the potential to lead the world in developing and manufacturing commercially viable technology."

On resources, the Executive sees "huge scope" for improving efficiency. Scotland's manufacturing sector is losing £300 million per year from "unproductive use of resources", it says, while energy wastage in the economy as a whole is running at £1.3 billion.

However, when it comes to diagnosing how more of this potential might be realised in these and other sectors such as tourism, agriculture, forestry and building design, the Executive offers very little analysis of its own. It merely invites views on whether there is enough awareness in business of the opportunities, on the barriers to the development of "green" sectors, and on possible additional business support mechanisms.

Likewise, while the paper acknowledges that the public sector has a potentially vital role in stimulating the market for "green" products and services, the Executive appears in no rush to honour long-standing commitments in this area. "We will have discussions with other public bodies" about specifying the use of recycled materials in contracts, it says, in a typically vague pledge.

The impression that the Executive is not looking to do very much beyond existing policy is reinforced by its proposals for measuring the impact of the green jobs strategy.

In a report last year, WWF estimated that Scotland's green sectors already employ 80,000 people, and projected that at least another 46,000 could be added within 10-15 years.

However, the Executive argues that "assessing current levels of employment in the environmental sectors, and examining the scope for these to increase, is no simple task" - and makes it clear that it does not intend to try. Instead, it proposes that the strategy's impact should be measured in terms of "economic growth and sustainability".