Fred Brown is part of “generation Greta” – young people pursuing careers to fight the climate crisis, inspired partly by the teenage activist Greta Thunberg. “If we want the natural environment to be around for the next generation, we have to conserve it now,” says the 26-year-old. “Greta has proven we have a voice that can create change.”
The world’s top climate scientists agree that we are running out of time to limit global warming below catastrophic levels of 1.5C. Brown works in the green economy – jobs that generate a positive impact on people and the planet. The median salary in the sector is £40,000, far greater than the UK average, and there are high levels of job satisfaction. The green economy offers a silver lining for postgrads, with traditional sectors shedding thousands of jobs in the pandemic.
“Green jobs are likely to provide a promising alternative,” says Kostas Iatridis, director of the University of Bath’s MSc in sustainability and management. Most roles and enterprises will become greener, so postgrads from every discipline are required.
“The green agenda will form the bedrock for regeneration from Covid-19. It will drive innovation, growth and employment,” says Chris Doran, subject head of strategy and people management at the University of Salford. Some 700,000 new jobs in low-carbon sectors could be created by 2030 – and more than a million by 2050, says the Local Government Association.
About half will be in clean electricity generation, a fifth will be involved in installing energy efficiency products such as insulation, while 19% will be in providing low carbon services such as finance. A further 14% of the jobs will relate to the manufacture of low-emission vehicles and infrastructure.
The big draw is that the work is so incredibly rewarding – delivering both a financial profit and a purpose. “Green and growth can go hand-in-hand,” says Joy Tweed, leader of the social enterprise MSc at the University of Westminster. Students gain entrepreneurial skills including financial analysis and innovation management.
A specialist master’s can help students get ahead in the green economy. The University of Edinburgh’s carbon management MSc, for instance, kicks off with modules covering the science and the economics of climate change. Students then take courses on solutions such as carbon capture, climate risk and investment. They work in areas such as smart grids and woodland expansion.
“A green recovery from Covid should bring a lot of new opportunities,” says Dave Reay, the university’s chair in carbon management and education, and a member of the government’s Green Jobs Taskforce. However, the Cameron government promised to be the “greenest ever” in 2010, yet later axed the Green Deal climate scheme. Siobhan Gardiner, climate change and environment lead at Deloitte Ventures, says it’s different this time: “Over the past decade, the public’s awareness of climate change has soared.”
Brown says postgrads have little to worry about in the green economy. After taking Edinburgh’s MSc, in 2017, he worked on what will be the UK’s largest onshore wind farm. He later joined Energiekontor, which develops and runs wind farms and solar parks. The project manager says: “The green economy is the economy of the future.”
Experience: ‘The system will have to change’
Anna Watson is a PhD student at the Science Policy Research Unit at the University of Sussex
I did my undergraduate degree in environmental science and international development at the University of East Anglia (UEA). At the time, I couldn’t believe people weren’t talking much about the climate crisis or doing anything about it.
After graduating, my master’s allowed me to delve deeper into the subject and to specialise in policy. There’s a lot of talk about the Green New Deal now, but the government implemented a green deal policy back in 2012.
It was meant to cause a revolution in energy efficiency, creating jobs and insulating people’s homes, but it was a massive failure. One issue was that there wasn’t enough security or support for small companies to do it. My dissertation research examined that.
Now, my PhD research looks at energy innovation policy and how we can get the clean energy solutions we need for net zero, so we can reach the aims of the Paris Agreement. It’s incredible how far the UK has moved already; since my undergraduate degree, the UK’s renewables capacity has increased significantly. In the last three or four years the momentum for change has grown so much.
We’ve reached this point where real innovation can take place and it’s no longer just a niche hippy thing. It’s a mainstream societal issue and businesses see that change has got to happen, especially in the energy system.
While we’ve made good progress in renewables for electricity, we’ve now got to decarbonise heat and transport. So we’re on the precipice; the whole system of architecture and technologies we use are going to have to change drastically.
*Interview by Abby Young-Powell