UK

UK path to net zero ‘at risk unless Government prioritises public engagement’

A group has warned that the UK’s reputation for global leadership on climate change and the economic benefits of a green transition are at risk due to Government inaction (Victoria Jones/PA)
A group has warned that the UK’s reputation for global leadership on climate change and the economic benefits of a green transition are at risk due to Government inaction (Victoria Jones/PA)

The UK will fail to achieve its net zero ambitions unless ministers do more to engage citizens, campaigners have warned.

The Upper coalition, which includes organisations such as Climate Outreach, Involve, Ashden and Lancaster University, called on the Government to publish its strategy urgently after committing to produce a public engagement plan at Cop26 in 2021.

The group warned that the UK’s reputation for global leadership on climate change and the economic benefits of a green transition are at risk due to the Government’s inaction on the issue.

In a report published on Tuesday the campaigners said: “Without an informed and engaged public, our world-leading net zero goals risk either being downgraded to placate a vocal and unrepresentative minority of the population, or not delivered as planned.”

The coalition called for the Energy Secretary Claire Coutinho to prioritise the strategy alongside policy development and regulation – a recommendation in line with those from the Climate Change Committee and Tory MP Chris Skidmore’s Net Zero Review.

It also called for the strategy to outline a national ambition with a regional and local delivery model so local authorities, businesses, civil society and grassroots groups will all be involved.

The strategy should also be “properly resourced” by government, the group said.

The report comes after a recent Ipsos poll found that one in four Britons identified the environment as an important issue for the county in August – up 13 percentage points since July.

However, political division over climate measures has also been widening this summer after disagreements over London’s rollout of the ultra-low emissions zone (Ulez) and alternative forms of domestic heating such as heat pumps.

Rachael Orr, chief executive of Climate Outreach, said: “The UK has set world-leading net zero policies. Now we have to prove we can deliver them.

“We need people power to do this. We need all of us, led by an ambitious public engagement strategy. The time to start driving this is now.”

Cara Jenkinson, cities manager at Ashden, said: “Our fossil fuel-hungry and nature-destroying lifestyle is life threatening, and requires rapid action to get out of danger.

“But the general public are hit by a multitude of counterarguments – from the media, government, business and peers.

“So if we are to make the changes needed to reduce the threat to life by climate change, we are going to have to bring the public along with us or change will be impossible to implement.”

The coalition said engaging the public will help mitigate climate fears and create a sense of agency so that people can see themselves in the story of the transition.

The group also recommends that projects are co-designed by a diverse range of people and groups.

They cited Camden’s Think and Do programme, which set up community hubs on housing estates to engage local people in climate action such as re-use and recycling initiatives, cycling training, providing vegetarian meals and running “fix and do” workshops.

The report said insights and learnings from such projects should be discussed at an annual public engagement summit, co-hosted by the government, the Local Government Association and the voluntary sector while a standing working group of cross-disciplinary experts should be set up to measure the impact.

The report also suggested ministers should take a joined-up approach to its policy agenda across all relevant departments and that the UK should play a leadership role in international co-operation on public engagement.

PA has contacted the Department for Energy Security and Net Zero for comment.