UK won’t meet net-zero goal without behaviour change focus, Lords tell Truss
Around one-third of the emissions reductions the UK must deliver by 2035 to meet legally binding climate targets will involve people changing their behaviours, making the new Government’s unwillingness to provide advice to the public cause for climate concern.
That is the headline conclusion of a new report published today (12 October) by the House of Lords Environment and Climate Change Committee. The Committee heard from 146 organisations across the UK in compiling the report, and took into account sources such as the Climate Change Committee’s (CCC) latest progress report to parliament.
Published in June, the CCC’s report concluded that the UK was making “scant progress” towards its 2050 net-zero goal and interim carbon budgets. The report highlighted missed opportunities to decarbonise sectors such as home heating and agriculture. It also argued – as the Public Accounts Committee has done before – that the Government has not yet adequately engaged the general public with the changes they will need to make in the transition, like changing their home heating, transport patterns and diets.
Building on the CCC’s report, the Lords Committee states that the Government has shown “a reluctance to help people cut carbon-intensive consumption” since net-zero by 2050 was legislated for in 2019.
Work on the report began prior to the Conservative Party leadership race, but new Party leader Liz Truss is arguably more opposed to asking the public to change behaviours than her predecessor Boris Johnson. Plans for a public communications campaign supporting people to save energy at home were reportedly turned down by Number 10 despite being backed by new Business and Energy Secretary Jacob Rees-Mogg, for example. And, new Health Minister Therese Coffey has said she does not believe it is right to for the Government tell people when and where to smoke.
The report states that while most Brits agree that there is a need for the nation to reduce emissions, they often do not know the most effective ways to reduce the impact of their own lifestyles. Confusion was found to be particularly pronounced around sustainable diets.
The report also argues that many people who would like to change their lifestyles feel that it is more time-consuming or expensive to do so due to poorly-designed fiscal incentives and disincentives, or a lack of infrastructure.
For those who are less open to change, the report reveals that they often feel that change would be “restrictive”. The report argues that this will need to be overcome, with the Government’s reluctance to choice-edit likely to put the UK off-track to cut emissions.
With these considerations in mind, policies which would prove popular include subsidies for home insulation, regulations requiring product repair to be simpler and cheaper and a levy for frequent fliers, the Committee heard. Less popular policies include taxes on meat and increased road charges, given that electric vehicles (EVs) are not yet at price parity with diesel and petrol models.
The report calls on the new Government to “use every lever it has” to address the barriers which prevent behaviour change, including carrots and sticks in terms of taxes.
It also floats the idea of new requirements for certain public sector actors. For example, Ministers could consider requirements for retail and office locations to install EV charging, or for supermarkets to adequately promote plant-based products.
The Committee emphasises that any changes must not place the burden on those who can least afford it – but instead be properly tied in with the Government’s commitment to levelling up. The report gives an example of good policy being greater support for low-income, energy-inefficient households to improve building fabric.
Also recommended is a new public engagement and communications campaign helping people to change behaviours in “key areas”. The campaign could answer frequently asked questions about home energy efficiency and heating; EVs and sustainable diets.
The Committee concludes that the Government does have experience in driving behaviour change, and that the Covid-19 lockdowns are a recent example of enabling shifts in habits such as travel.
“The Government’s mantra of ‘going with the grain of consumer choice’ demonstrates a reluctance to help people cut carbon-intensive consumption,” summarised the Committee Chair Baroness Parminter.
“It is in a unique position to guide the public in changing their behaviours. However, its approach is inadequate in the face of the urgent scale of the environmental challenge. The Prime Minister urgently needs to set out her vision of a country where low carbon choices and behaviours can flourish.”
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