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Behaviour change, public engagement and Net Zero (Imperial College London)

1. Outline

The Committee on Climate Change (CCC) appointed Dr. Richard Carmichael from Imperial College London to help understand the potential for people to make choices that can contribute to reducing emissions, and what this means for policy. This independently published report sets out a range of policy interventions that could encourage changes across surface transport, aviation, heating and diet change. It helped to inform the Committee’s report on Net Zero – The UK’s contribution to stopping global warming, published in May 2019.

The independent report does not reflect the view of the Committee, and we do not agree with all of the recommendations.

2. Key findings

The report identified a number of potential policy implications:

  • If the public are to become engaged with the climate challenge and contribute to achieving net-zero emissions then the wider policy context will also need to be more supportive. New, compelling narratives will be needed to inspire and mobilise mainstream participation in solutions, adoption of technologies and change in behaviours.
  • Government must create a wider context which nurtures public engagement with action on climate change and must also enable consumers to take specific concrete actions that deliver large emissions reductions.
  • These changes need not be expensive and can deliver large co-benefits, to health and beyond, but they are unlikely to happen rapidly unless policy first removes obstacles to change in markets and different consumer choices.
  • Predicting the levels of change that will be delivered by these interventions is very difficult. Policy to deliver rapid societal change and technology adoption is uncharted territory and inherently subject to uncertainty. Government will need to take a pragmatic approach and learn by doing.
  • Policies will need to work together and in sequence to deliver change in behaviours and markets, avoid negative outcomes and build public acceptance. Access to attractive and affordable products and services, and support for informed choices and for new industry practices, should be in place wherever possible before interventions which raise prices for essential goods
  • Data and ICT (information and communications technology) have have emerged as an important asset and tool for enabling consumers to make informed decisions about technology adoption (electric cars and heating), for providing consumers with product information and feedback on purchasing habits (diet) and for redesigning financial incentives for shifts in demand (diet and aviation) and change at the system level (diet)