Media Release

North of England could be biggest economic winner from Net Zero

Towns and cities in the North of England have the best chance to reap economic benefits from the transition to Net Zero, new research shows today.

Northern local authority areas take half the slots in the Top 20 places with the greatest opportunity to gain from the shift to a low-carbon economy, the Social Market Foundation found.

The SMF has analysed every local authority area in England, Scotland and Wales to establish their chances of winning from the creation of green jobs and industries.

Places in the North West, Yorkshire and North East are among those with the greatest potential for gains from decarbonisation, the SMF found.

The new calculations follow repeated poll findings showing that voters in those regions are positive about the benefits of moving to a low-carbon economy. The SMF said its report underlines the potential for Net Zero to contribute to “levelling up” the UK economy.

The North West dominates the SMF’s Green Opportunity Index rankings, with six local areas in the top 20. The North East has one and Yorkshire and the Humber one. The other places are taken by areas in the Midlands and Wales. (See notes for top 20 list.)

Several ‘red wall’ battleground areas, including Stoke-on-Trent and County Durham, feature in the top 10% of opportunity areas. The report says that there is “a pattern of opportunity across areas in the North of England, which experienced greater economic scarring from deindustrialisation”.

The Opportunity Index ranks the spread of decarbonisation opportunities like green jobs and proximity to new renewable energy sites and industrial clusters. (See notes for methodology).

Only one local authority in the South East and South West feature in the top 50 opportunities areas, with the capital the least likely to experience the benefits of Net Zero.

The SMF report Zeroing In, sponsored by Amazon, analyses how the pursuit of a greener economy will benefit different parts of Britain.

It recommends that ministers should give local authorities new revenue-raising powers so the UK can reach its Net Zero 2050 target. Apprenticeship levy funding should also be devolved to regional mayors to drive local green skills agendas.

Parts of the North of England and the Midlands with devolved powers and mayors are well-placed to take advantage of the benefits accruing from decarbonisation, the research found.

But the report, informed by discussions with politicians, academics and businesses across the UK, says local and regional authorities need empowering through new funding mechanisms so they can drive the transition.

The SMF research also identifies those areas facing the highest level of disruption from Net Zero.

The East Midlands, Yorkshire & the Humber and Wales face the greatest risks due to high per capita emissions and reliance on employment in carbon-intensive industries.

The Disruption Index shows Bolsover to be the most disrupted areas in Britain, with Islington the least.

London is both the least likely to have opportunities from Net Zero and least disrupted due to its well-developed public transport networks and low reliance on employment in high-emitting sectors.

Although two-thirds (66%) of local authorities in Britain face relatively high levels of disruption from the transition to Net Zero they also face similar levels of opportunity through the creation of new businesses and green jobs.

Over two fifths (42%) of the areas in the North East were categorised as ‘high opportunity, low disruption’ by the SMF research. Only 17% were considered ‘low opportunity – high disruption areas’ across all regions.

The SMF warned that rural areas stand out as facing higher levels of risk due to dependence on private transport, heritage homes and distance from green industry opportunities.

The report calls for the Government to introduce a Rural Net Zero Strategy to ensure the current focus on industrial areas does not marginalise rural communities.

Scott Corfe, Research Director at the Social Market Foundation, said:

The next three decades will transform local areas throughout the UK as governments, businesses and wider society come together to fulfil the country’s Net Zero ambitions.

“Many parts of Britain face a golden opportunity to reap the benefits of decarbonisation, including green jobs and cleaner modes of travel. And it is vital that we seize these opportunities, as the transition will also bring risk and disruption for some areas.


  • The SMF report has been sponsored by Amazon. The SMF retained full editorial independence of this and all of its research. The SMF is committed to publishing details of all of its funders.
  • The report, Zeroing In, is published on Tuesday 14th September at 07:00 at


  • For media enquiries please contact or call Linus Pardoe, 07402 576995


The Social Market Foundation has developed two composite indices to examine the relative impact of net zero on different local authorities in the UK – one measuring relative disruption, and the other measuring relative opportunity. The sub-measures going into each of these indices are outlined below.

The sub-measures were ranked by order of magnitude. These ranks were then averaged (with equal weight) to produce overall disruption and opportunity scores.

Net Zero Opportunity Index sub-measures

  • Proximity to nearest under-construction renewable energy site
  • Proximity to nearest decarbonisation industrial cluster
  • Percentage of jobs in electric vehicles and low-carbon heat-related industry codes
  • Percentage of working age population with NVQ level 2 or 3 qualifications
  • Proximity to nearest top 20 university for STEM research

Net Zero Disruption Index data sources

  • Disruption to transport – as measured by data on transport emissions per capita
  • Disruption to household energy usage – as measured by per capita household gas/fuel
  • emissions
  • Whether households can afford the changes demanded by net zero, without further government subsidy – measured by median employee earnings.
  • The percentage of jobs in carbon-intensive sectors.
  • The percentage of businesses in carbon-intensive sectors.


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