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Clean energy transition may boost job opportunities in the U.S.

The United States’ journey towards a net-zero carbon economy is likely to spur consistent job growth, but not all regions will benefit equally, according to a recent analysis led by Imperial College London (ICL). Published in Nature Climate Change, the study underscores the need for state-specific policies to enable a fair transition to clean energy.

Low-carbon future 

As nations globally, including the US, move towards a low-carbon future, the implications for employment in the energy sector are currently under intense scrutiny. 

The US’s commitment, bolstered by the 2022 Inflation Reduction Act’s significant investment in clean energy, aims to transition to energy systems that have minimal to zero carbon emissions. This shift, while essential for mitigating climate change, presents uncertainties regarding job creation.

Focus of the study

The current study delves into potential employment changes at the state level, considering various low-carbon transition scenarios for the US electricity system. 

The findings reveal that while decarbonization will generally lead to job growth, states heavily reliant on fossil fuel production might face reductions in mining jobs.

Equitable transition 

According to the experts, the least skilled workers could face more precarious employment prospects, necessitating thoughtful planning to ensure the transition is equitable. 

Interestingly, the renewable energy sector’s tendency to employ a higher percentage of women could enhance gender equality in some states.

Clean energy revolution 

“Overall, our analysis is good news: recent policies such as the Inflation Reduction Act will lead to consistent job growth,” said lead author Judy Jingwei Xie, an expert in Environmental Policy at ICL. 

“There are some states currently very reliant on fossil fuel production that could lose out, but there are tools available for them to get ahead of the problem and take advantage of the situation to turn themselves into leaders of the clean energy revolution.”

The analysis utilized the US National Renewable Energy Laboratory’s Regional Energy Development System (ReEDS) model, which includes detailed future energy system scenarios. These scenarios were then used to model employment impacts across states, considering their energy profiles and demographics.

Transforming the energy system 

“A lot of new stuff needs to be built to transform the energy system globally, and the Inflation Reduction Act in the US has created some key conditions for big companies to make this shift,” said study senior author Iain Staffell, a lecturer in Sustainable Energy at ICL.

“The US and China are ahead in this regard, and if we in the UK want a part of this boon, we need similar policies to incentivise the rapid shift to clean energy, which would boost employment and progress towards global goals of reducing carbon emissions.”

What is net zero?

“Net zero” refers to the balance between the amount of greenhouse gas emissions produced and the amount removed from the atmosphere. When a company, country, or individual is net zero, it means that they remove as much carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases as they emit, effectively reducing their carbon footprint to zero.

Reaching net zero typically involves a combination of reducing emissions through energy efficiency, renewable energy, and changes in practices and behavior, as well as enhancing or investing in carbon removal projects like reforestation or direct air capture technologies.

The concept is central to efforts to combat climate change, with many entities setting targets for achieving net zero by a certain date to align with the goals of the Paris Agreement to limit global warming.

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