UK Government ‘not taking the public’s views on net-zero transition into account’

Without better engagement

The warning has been issued today (8 July) by MPs on the Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) Committee, in a new report following up on the Government’s response to the recommendations of the UK Climate Assembly.

First formed in early 2020, Climate Assembly UK comprised 108 UK citizens, with the cohort designed to mirror the national population in terms of demographics such as sex, race, class, location and opinions on environmental issues. Members convened, virtually, for three weekends, to outline their priorities in the low-carbon transition and to develop policy recommendations that would have broad support among the general public and across Government.

These outcomes were then presented to Ministers in a final report last September. Recommendations made covered travel, land use, material consumption, domestic heat and electricity usage, electricity generation and negative-emissions solutions – both nature-based and man-made. Popular policies included a frequent flyer tax; increased funding for public transport; support for those looking to buy electric vehicles (EVs); mandates for manufacturers to use less energy and resources and support for nature-based carbon removal solutions over man-made technologies.

According to the BEIS Committee, Ministers have broadly failed to embed these recommendations in green policy packages over the nine months since the Assembly’s final report was published. In several cases, policies that stand in opposition to the recommendations have been put forward, including a proposed cut to air passenger duty and more funding for nuclear fusion than for onshore wind or community renewable energy.

At a top-line level, the Government has not yet provided a full response to the Climate Assembly UK report. The BEIS Committee is now pressing for this and, as many green groups have in recent weeks, is asking for the string of green policy packages that have been delayed due to Covid-19 to be published in the coming weeks – ahead of Parliament’s summer recess where possible. This will provide greater clarity to groups including the general public, businesses and investors.

These forthcoming policy packages, the Committee is urging, should be supported by detailed plans for education and public engagement. These plans could potentially be included in the Net-Zero Strategy, which is due ahead of COP26 in November and will summarise sector-specific decarbonisation targets and technology pathways. MPs recommend that plans include citizens assemblies and citizens juries as well as communications campaigns.

“At the heart of the Climate Assembly UK proposals were the principles of public engagement and fairness, but Ministers have so far failed to engage the public on any of the big changes we expect to see in the years ahead,” BEIS Committee chair Darren Jones MP said.

“Whether it’s decarbonising heating in our homes, reducing our emissions from transport or dealing with changes in the workplace, we know the net-zero transition will soon become a lived experience in every home across the country. There is a great opportunity to make the net-zero transition a positive experience, but the Government’s failure to engage the public means we risk people viewing the net-zero transition in a negative light and perceiving policy measures as being imposed.

“I hope the Government will take heed of our report, formally accept the Climate Assembly UK proposals as a basis to engage the wider public, and not miss the opportunity of hosting COP26 to energise and motivate the British people about the net-zero opportunities ahead of us.”

A recent survey of 7,000 adults in the UK, conducted by the Government, found that only half believe that the net-zero transition will deliver an economic boost. However, three-quarters believe that public health and wellbeing would be better in a net-zero world.

The report from the BEIS Committee comes on the same day that thinktank Policy Exchange published a new briefing warning that the Government has not prepared for the potential backlash from local communities as it strives to scale the national offshore wind generation capacity to 40GW by 2030. That briefing has been supported by former Energy Secretaries Dame Andrea Leadsom and Amber Rudd.

Sarah George

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