Climate Assembly: 79% of Brits want Covid-19 recovery package tied to net-zero

A survey of the members of the UK's Climate Assembly, who were chosen to resemble the national population in terms of both social demographics and views on environmental issues, found that almost eight in ten want net-zero alignment embedded in all facets of the upcoming Covid-19 recovery package.

Climate Assembly: 79% of Brits want Covid-19 recovery package tied to net-zero

When the group was asked how best the UK Government could ensure that its plan is aligned with its 2050 climate target, the most commonly-cited solution was limiting bail-outs and other investments in high-carbon industries and businesses.

Ministers have faced criticism in recent weeks for failing to prevent the Bank of England from allocating emergency funding – and planning to allocate more – to key corporates in the aviation, road transport and fossil fuel sectors. The central bank is also under fire for its decision to lend £1bn to chemicals giants BASF and Bayer, major producers of pesticides. More recently, the Bank admitted that its current bond portfolio and its £100bn addition to its quantitative easing programme are not aligned with the Paris Agreement.

Supporters of “green strings” for bailouts also broadly agreed that they should be complemented with measures to help businesses reskill or upskill workers, and to prevent any adverse consequences in the supply chain.

The 108 members of the Assembly also recommended a “rethink” of infrastructure to prioritise energy efficiency, public and active transport, onsite renewable energy generation and broadband access and further support for low-carbon industries in the form of subsidies and grants. Boris Johnson is understood to be considering measures for these areas already

Some Assembly members (6%) strongly opposed a requirement for the recovery package to be tied to net-zero, largely due to concerns that this would slow down the UK’s economic recovery. But the overarching consensus was that climate change and the recession can be tackled jointly.

Assembly members were also asked whether they would like to be supported – be it by Government, their local authorities or businesses – to maintain a low-carbon lifestyle in the post-pandemic world. Emissions from aviation, road transport and energy generation are all notably down year-on-year due to lockdown restrictions.

93% of the members said they would like to see these supports put in place, with most envisioning that working from home will have a more prominent role in the future than ever.

Particularly salient was support for further investments in cycling and pedestrian networks, so that people are encouraged to travel in active, low-carbon ways; and for office-based businesses to minimise the size of their estate and maximise their reliance on digital resources which are less resource-intense.

When asked what form the supports should take, opposition to mandatory behaviour change was voiced. More popular methods of engagement were found to be the provision of information by Government – for example through a communications campaign as widespread as the current provision for coronavirus – and the introduction of incentives by businesses. More firms could offer a cycle-to-work scheme, for example.

“Although this is a tough and sad time for so many we should look for lasting positive change as we begin exiting lockdown,” one Assembly member said. “We have learnt that we can change our behaviours, therefore this should be encouraged to continue especially with the net-zero target in mind.”

These findings were in line with recent research by Futerra, which asked 1,000 UK residents and 1,000 US residents about the behaviour changes they had made during lockdown, and whether they would be willing to change their lifestyles to mitigate or adapt to climate change. Across the two groups, 80% said they would make lifestyle changes as drastic as those forced by lockdown in order to help minimise global warming.

Taking it higher

The results of this Assembly meeting are being shared with the UK Government today (23 June). At the same time, the chairs of six select committees have written to Boris Johnson urging him to take heed of these findings as he finalises the UK’s recovery package.

“In recent months the UK public has demonstrated its capacity to respond positively and responsibly when they understand the risks posed to them by an invisible threat that demands collective action,” their joint letter states. “We believe that a similar approach, based on securing public support for ambitious policies through open dialogue around the science, is a sound basis for the net-zero journey.”

The letter has been signed by representatives of the Environmental Audit Committee, BEIS Committee, Transport Committee, Treasury Committee, Science and Technology Committee and . The chairs of each of these committees has also pledged to better embed the public sentiment around environmental issues in their future inquiries.

The UK’s Climate Assembly was launched last year and is being assisted by the above select committees, as well as an academic and advisory panel. Panel members include Committee on Climate Change chair Chris Stark, Green Alliance senior policy adviser Chaitanya Kumar and Energy UK chief executive Audrey Gallacher. Its aim is to help the UK Government develop and implement a roadmap for meeting net-zero by 2050, in a way which is just for all regions and social demographics.

Sarah George

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