Net zero 2050: confidence vs. skills gap

Nine in 10 project managers are confident the UK government will meet its 2050 net zero target, according to a new survey by the Association for Project Management (APM), the chartered membership organisation for the project profession.  

A recent APM survey reveals strong confidence among project managers in the UK's ability to meet its net zero 2050 target. However, there's a significant concern about the existing skills gap in the profession.

However, 61% highlighted concerns over the profession’s pipeline talent to sustain the delivery of net zero projects – adding to growing calls across multiple sectors for urgent action to tackle the skills gap. 

This comes after new figures showed that UK emissions fell 5.7% in 2023 to their lowest level since 1879, according to analysis based on preliminary government energy data from the website Carbon Brief. Its analysis showed emissions fell to 383 million tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent (CO2e) last year.

Barring the general strike of 1926, emissions haven’t dropped below 400 million tonnes of CO2e since the Victorian era. It also means the UK is now more than halfway to net zero by 2050, despite the UK economy growing 82% in the past 33 years. 

Following the announcement that the government has committed to supporting the building of new gas power stations to “maintain a safe and reliable energy source for days when the weather forecast doesn’t power up renewables”. 

Scaled back on green policies

The APM poll of 1,000 project management professionals, carried out by national research company Censuswide before this week’s news, found 91% were confident overall that the UK government will achieve its 2050 net zero target that is enshrined in law. Some 31% were very confident, and 60% were somewhat confident.  

The top reasons for their confidence were actions taken by both their sector and company (both options were selected by 48% of respondents). Recently, the Government has called on businesses to reduce their carbon emissions. Action has included switching to low-emission lightbulbs, adjusting heating and cooling systems, installing smart meters, insulating buildings, and fleet electrification. In 2020, businesses accounted for 18% of all UK greenhouse gas emissions.  

Other reasons for the confidence in achieving net zero include UK government measures/legislation (43% of respondents). For example, the Government’s 2023 Net Zero Growth Plan aims to scale up technologies to decarbonise homes, power, industry and transport. But in September 2023, Prime Minister Rishi Sunak controversially scaled back on green policies affecting electric vehicles and gas boilers, drawing criticism from the climate watchdog. 

Gap stays ‘the same’ or ‘worsens’

Meanwhile, six in 10 (61%) do not believe there are enough project professionals in the talent pipeline to sustain the future delivery of net zero projects. Of these, 27% strongly agreed, and 34% somewhat agreed with the statement. Another 32% of respondents neither agreed nor disagreed. 

This follows another recent survey by APM, which found that 83% of project managers believe there is a skills shortage in their sector. Of these, 43% said the gap stays the same or worsens. 

Andrew Baldwin, head of policy and public affairs at APM, said: “With the UK striving to become a global leader in combating climate change, project managers are playing a pivotal role in driving the transition to net zero. As the experts on the frontline, they are embracing responsibilities ranging from strategic planning to resource management, addressing complex challenges such as stakeholder engagement and technology adoption, and leading the way towards a better sustainable future. 

“That’s why it’s very encouraging to learn from our latest survey that a significant majority – more than 90% – of project managers believe the UK will achieve its flagship 2050 net zero target. 

Talent shortage

“But our profession is not naïve. We know there is more to do at both a government level and within the project management sector itself, and the warning about the talent shortage affecting the future delivery of net zero projects must not be ignored. As the only chartered membership organisation for the project profession, APM will continue to ensure our concerns are listened to and acted upon.” 

The survey also found that those aged 55+ were most confident overall (94%) of the UK meeting its 2050 net zero targets, while 25-34-year-olds were the most likely age group to agree that there isn’t enough pipeline talent to deliver net zero projects (71%). 

The Climate Change Act 2008 (2050 Target Amendment) Order 2019 commits the UK government by law to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by at least 100% of 1990 levels (net zero) by 2050.