Around one in five workers living in the East and West Midlands were employed in the UK’s highest-emitting industries in 2021.
That means these two regions had a higher proportion of workers employed in those industries than the rest of England and Wales.
Those employed in high-emissions industries are generally more likely to be affected by the UK government’s target to transition to net zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050. Net zero means that the greenhouse gas emissions the UK creates would be equal to or less than the amount it removes from the environment.
People in London and the South East of England were the least likely to be employed in high-emissions industries.
Residence-based greenhouse gas emissions are those created by UK residents and UK-registered businesses, regardless of whether they are based in the UK or overseas.
This differs from the measure used to assess the transition to net zero. Find out more about how we measure greenhouse gas emissions.
For this article, we define high-emissions industries as the five broad industry groups (see the first chart) that account for the highest shares of the UK’s total greenhouse gas emissions (residence-based) excluding emissions from households.
We explore the characteristics of workers in these industries who live in England and Wales, using Census 2021 data.
These data show that a higher proportion of people across England and Wales who were employed in high-emissions industries had no formal qualifications, compared with people across all industries.
They were also much more likely to be men, and slightly more likely to be aged 50 years and over.
Five industries accounted for around 82% of total greenhouse gas emissions across the UK in 2021.
These five industries employed 16% (around one in every six) of all UK employees.
The UK’s five highest-emitting industries have one in six employees
Percentage of total greenhouse gas emissions (residence basis) excluding household emissions, and total employees by industry, UK, 2021
Some people in these industries may already have “green jobs”, which contribute to protecting or restoring the environment, including those that mitigate or adapt to climate change.
However, looking at high-emissions industries is one way of identifying people who may experience changes to their roles or working practices because of the UK’s transition to net zero.
Emissions of most of these high-emitting industries have fallen since 1990
Total greenhouse gas emissions (residence basis) by industry, UK, 1990 to 2022 (provisional)
Total emissions across the five highest-emitting industries have roughly halved between 1990 and 2022.
The transport and storage industry was the only one of these five for which emissions were higher in 2022 than in 1990, although it dipped below that level during the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.
Census 2021 data can tell us about the characteristics of workers living in England and Wales in the UK's high-emissions industries, including where they live. While we look at emissions at the UK level, there may be cases where a business in a particular high-emissions industry in a certain area has already reduced its emissions.
Around one in five (19%) of those living in the East Midlands and West Midlands were in high-emissions industries, a higher proportion than in any other region of England, or in Wales.
This was more than double the proportion employed in the same five industries in London (8%).
1 in 5 Midlands workers were in high-emissions industries, compared with 1 in 12 workers in London
Percentage of workers in high-emissions industries by region or nation, England and Wales, 2021
At local authority area level, Copeland in Cumbria had the highest percentage of people employed in high-emissions industries, at 31%.
This was mostly driven by the high proportion of people in the area who were employed in the “water supply; sewerage, waste management and remediation activities” industry. Copeland also had a higher proportion of its workforce employed in that particular industry than any other local authority area in England and Wales.
The Sellafield nuclear site is in Copeland, and employs people to process and store nuclear waste, an activity included in this industry. Although Census 2021 data do not contain information on specific employers, it is likely to be a major source of employment in the area.
South Holland in Lincolnshire had the next highest, at 28%. Compared with most other areas, it had a relatively high percentage of its workforce employed in both the manufacturing, and the agriculture, forestry and fishing industries.
The 18 local authority areas with the lowest percentages of workers employed in high-emissions industries were all in London. The other areas in the bottom 20 were Epsom and Ewell in Surrey and Brighton and Hove in East Sussex.
You can search for the percentage of workers employed in high-emissions industries by local authority using our interactive tool.
Select your area to find out about local employment in high-emissions industries
Percentage of workers in high-emissions industries by local authority, England and Wales, 2021
Around 14% of those employed in high-emissions industries had no formal qualifications. That compared with 9% across all industries.
Workers in high-emissions industries are less likely to have formal qualifications
Percentage of workers in high-emissions industries and all industries by highest formal qualification, England and Wales, 2021
People employed in high-emissions industries were also less likely to have a degree or above as their highest formal qualification, at 29% (43% across all industries).
You can read more about how we categorise the different qualification levels in our highest level of qualification definitions article.
These findings are in line with our previous analysis, which found that the agriculture, forestry and fishing, and transport and storage industries ranked among the lowest for formal qualification levels.
People in those industries could still be highly skilled and may not require formal qualifications to do their jobs. However, it is possible that not having such qualifications could make it harder to transfer into other jobs, for example, if a transfer was required by a transition to net zero.
Across high-emissions industries, workers were more likely to be older, with around 39% aged 50 years and over, compared with 33% across all industries.
Workers in high-emissions industries tend to be older on average
Percentage of workers in high-emissions industries and all industries by age group, England and Wales, 2021
The industries were also dominated by men, who made up 74% of those in high-emissions industries, and 52% across the whole workforce.
We can also use Census 2021 data to look at the occupation of workers within the UK’s highest-emitting industries. Of 104 occupation groups, 12 accounted for more than half (51%) of those employed within high-emissions industries.
Road transport drivers was the most common occupation group, with nearly 550,000 workers (14%). This group includes drivers of large goods vehicles (LGVs), vans, buses, and taxis, as well as driving instructors.
This is a useful way of identifying the types of jobs that might be affected. But not all jobs within a high-emissions industry will contribute significantly to that industry’s greenhouse gas emissions, or some may have already decarbonised. For example, a taxi driver who drives an electric vehicle is likely to contribute far fewer greenhouse gas emissions than one who drives a vehicle powered by fossil fuels.
This means we cannot assume that any given occupation within these industries will be at risk because of a transition to net zero. It could instead involve changing the inputs or technologies used in the roles, such as switching to cleaner fuels or electric cars.
Three occupation groups accounted for one-quarter of workers in high-emissions industries
Number of workers (thousands) in most common occupation groups within high-emissions industries, England and Wales, 2021
We have used Census 2021 data in this article because it offers the most detailed information we have on the characteristics of workers in different industries, such as where they live.
Census 2021 data are different from our regular labour market statistics. You can find out about those differences in our comparison of Census 2021 and labour market data article.
It bases the industry of a worker on what they describe as the main activity of the place where they work. This may differ from how the industry of a worker is defined in other measures. You can read more about the strengths and limitations of Census 2021 data in our methodology article.
We have calculated greenhouse emissions by industry at the UK level because we do not have figures for emissions by industry at a more local level.
It is important to note that an area with a high concentration of workers in high-emissions industries will not necessarily have higher emissions in that area.
Information on local-level emissions on a territorial basis (those that occur within the UK's borders) can be found in the Department for Energy Security and Net Zero’s UK local authority and regional statistics.