Exploring Green Futures: UNEP Green Skills Workshop at Imperial College London

This article provides a summary of the discussions held on how coalitions of private sector, government and further and higher education institutions can best collaborate in order to achieve greater impact in growing a green economy. 38 specialists in teaching and learning were invited to contribute and this article is designed as a resource for people wanting to understand the core outputs of the discussion.

Iain Patton

10 Jun 2024
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Photo of someone’s notes at a workshop

Hosts and Speakers:

Hosted by Sam Barratt and Iain Patton, UNEP, and Tim Sowula, THE, and welcomed by

  • Tim Green, academic lead for sustainability, Imperial College London
  • Jonathan Dewsbury – director of capital operations and Net Zero, Department for Education, Goverment of the UK
  • Yi Yang, deputy-president, Imperial College London Student’s Union
  • Jim Longhurst, assistant vice-chancellor, University of the West of England
  • Paul Kett, senior adviser and global director education and skills, PwC
  • Mark Adom-Asamoah, professor and education policy adviser, Government of Ghana

Invited guests were predominantly from UK universities and colleges with international representatives from universities in Kenya, USA, Beijing. The governments of Ghana and Kenya were represented alongside wider sector and sustainability organisation LinkedIn, Universities UK, Association of Colleges, OECD and WWF amongst others.


The Vision for a Global Green Skills Observatory

The primary goal of the workshop was to gauge interest and gather feedback on establishing a UNEP Green Skills Observatory. The envisioned Observatory aims to become a global hub that supports and accelerates action on green skills for youth in higher and further education. It seeks to understand the current state of green jobs and skills and to highlight the roles and needs of tertiary education in prioritising these areas.


Key Questions and Responses

1. What might a new observatory support that isn’t already happening?

  • Leadership

There is a notable lack of clear leadership in the green skills sector. An Observatory could establish credible, reliable, and consistent communication frameworks, especially between employers and educators.

Green skills need to be mainstreamed and seen as essential across all sectors, not just within STEM fields. This includes recognising the importance of soft skills like problem-solving and collaboration.

Avoiding duplication with existing initiatives (e.g., UNESCO, CEDEFOP) is crucial. The Observatory must map its place within this landscape.

  • Careers and Pathways

The current approach to lifelong learning is fragmented, with unclear pathways from education to green jobs. The Observatory could help clarify these pathways and adapt existing roles for the green economy.

Career advisors need better training to guide students and career-changers towards green jobs, understanding future skills gaps, and the evolving job market.

  • Further and Higher Education (FHE)

Higher education often lacks an interdisciplinary approach necessary for green skills. Further education (FE) and adult education play a critical role in this transformation.

Funding and collaboration issues are significant barriers. The Observatory could advocate for changes in management and business school curricula to include green skills.

There is a need for problem-based learning to encourage transdisciplinary education and for recognising the broader value of university rankings beyond narrow success metrics.

  • Students

Students are experiencing climate anxiety and expect their universities to respond. Equipping them to be agents of change, with systems thinking and practical skills, is essential.

The Observatory could help universities meet these expectations by sharing best practices and promoting UNEP’s convening power to drive change.

  • Broader Points

The term "observatory" might seem passive. Active engagement from employers and local communities is essential.

Adults in the educational and professional sectors must take responsibility alongside the youth in driving the green transition.

The Observatory could help in mapping green skills across sectors, creating a dynamic taxonomy of current and future skills, and providing comparable data internationally.

Critical Question: Who would be the audience for an Observatory? Understanding the primary stakeholders and beneficiaries of the Observatory's work is crucial for its success.


2. What are the drivers governments and sectors need?

  • Drivers (Regulatory, Financial):

Current drivers, such as university rankings and funding mechanisms, do not adequately support green skills development.

There is a need to redefine these drivers to highlight the importance of green skills, potentially using data from platforms like LinkedIn to link employability with green skills.

Upskilling for green jobs is time-consuming and expensive, and current funding is insufficient.

  • Inclusivity:

Indigenous voices and the economically active 25-55 age cohort are often excluded from green skills discussions. A fair and just transition requires their inclusion.

The language around green skills should be inclusive, extending beyond STEM to encompass interdisciplinary and transdisciplinary approaches.

  • Data and Information:

Clear goals and definitions of green skills are needed to ensure consistency and relevance.

The Observatory should bridge higher education, further education, and beyond, capturing and sharing best practices globally, while being sensitive to place and culture.


The UNEP Green Skills Workshop at Imperial College London underscored the urgent need for a global Green Skills Observatory. This Observatory could play a crucial role in fostering leadership, clarifying career pathways, and promoting interdisciplinary education. By addressing current gaps and driving systemic change, it has the potential to equip future generations with the skills needed to thrive in a green economy.



The conversation at Imperial has continued and we are now delighted to announce the launch of The International Green Learning and Skills Accelerator (IGSLA). Formerly known as the Observatory, the Accelerator aims to address the critical need for integrating green skills into education and workforce development globally. Designed in collaboration with Times Higher Education and the UN Environment Programme and in support of the Green Jobs for Youth Pact, it identifies the key stakeholders as educational institutions, learners, employers, governments and donors. It focuses on supporting the provision of green skills by education institutions by producing new data, new tools, and a new coalition of actors.

 The IGSLA wishes to include all leaders and organisations that are committed to improving their environmental impact and accelerating economic growth. The strength of the Accelerator is founded on the diversity of partners. We will support you with bespoke strategies, action-plans and resources designed to help you build hubs that can be transformative for your national or regional economic context. Please register your interest on opportunities for your institution to be involved in this new UN-backed programme, and the benefits for our stakeholders.