Research offers insight into public attitudes towards net zero

Net zero has public support, but they believe it should be achieved in ways that respect individual choice, promote wellbeing and do not widen social inequalities, research has found.

On 15 March, BEIS published the findings from a study into public attitudes to net zero, revealing concern at both the current and future impacts of climate change on the environment, but a lack of clarity as to how individual actions – considering the scale of the challenge – can make a difference. A high level of net zero awareness was uncovered, though mixed understanding as to what exactly the 2050 target means. Once this was clarified, there was broad agreement that it was a “positive show of commitment” but scepticism as to the likelihood of the target being met.

Reducing waste, increasing recycling, reducing car travel and making homes more energy efficient were all actions cited as being important to achieving net zero, along with improving public transport, reducing plastic packaging and reducing incentives for encouraging unsustainable behaviours among the public. A transition to low carbon heating and use of energy in the home were mentioned less frequently.

There were concerns expressed that there could be distributional impacts of actions aimed at reducing emissions and that these would have the greatest impact on lower income households, those with specific needs or vulnerabilities, and those living in flats or older properties. There was consensus that there must be strong, united political leadership delivering a clear, consistent message on actions to achieve net zero.

Other findings included limited awareness of national or more localised policies and measures on emissions, or mechanisms through which the public are being engaged on the issue of climate change. Participants were clear when it came to the value of engaging members of the public in dialogue to understand and account for their perspectives, especially on policies that will have a direct impact on their lives. However, considering the importance of reaching net zero, they stressed the public should not be left to decide the best pathway for making progress.