This week there has been an abundance of news related to climate change and the threats and opportunities posed to our existence from our role as a dominant species with limited resources. From the CFTC report on climate risk in the US to the WWF’s mighty biennial Living Planet Report, and from the blockade of some UK newspaper printing presses by Extinction Rebellion to the launch this week by H+K’s London team of the IEP’s inaugural Ecological Threat Register which forecasts that by 2050 as many as 1.2 billion people may be displaced by ecological threats.
This profusion of news may feel overwhelming, but the message is clear and unequivocal and attempting to sway various important policy and political moments such as the vote today by the ENVI committee of the European Parliament on more ambitious targets for greenhouse gas emissions reductions during the next few decades. Sadly, this sort of decision has become increasingly politicised around the world as ‘green issues’ have become fought over and against for political gain.
Today, in what appeared to be an attempt to democratise and depoliticise policymaking, the Climate Assembly UK has published the report that concludes a process commissioned by six parliamentary Select Committees to understand public preferences on how the UK should tackle climate change. 108 people from across the UK each spent 60 hours to hear from 47 expert speakers. They covered 10 interrelated areas that impact on climate change and our ability to meet the commitment to move the UK economy to Net Zero by 2050, including diet, transportation, heating, industry and energy.
In total, the report contains over 50 recommendations for policy measures designed to meet the net-zero target by 2050. The Assembly has made some clear and specific recommendations that would impact upon consumption and public behaviour such as introducing a taxes that increase as people fly more often and as they fly further or targets for reducing meat consumption. It is hoped that this will provide some political air cover for policymakers wrestling with the political challenges of imposing lifestyle changes on the population.
Generally speaking, Conservative governments in particular have sought to avoid any hint of the nanny state in their policymaking. This despite overseeing some of the most severe restrictions on individual liberties since World War II, in response to the COVID-19 global pandemic. The question is, will this report, with its clear call for leadership, coupled with the need for international leadership in the run-up to hosting COP26 provide sufficient impetus for the UK government to tackle some of the bigger bumps on the road to net zero.
My sense is that there is a growing public appetite for faster progress to be made, but simultaneously a lack of understanding or acceptance of the lifestyle implications of such progress. Afterall the Assembly only reached their conclusions after a lot of time invested in understanding a series of complex interrelated issues.
Ultimately despite the best efforts of the Assembly and other bodies like the Committee on Climate Change, these topics are by their nature politically charged. This is a government that remains focussed on delivering Brexit and trade agreements with markets around the world. While Brexit may well untether the government from state aid restrictions to provide more overt support for new industries and technologies that can help deliver net-zero, businesses cannot and should not wait to capitalise on these opportunities and provide the leadership that the government will struggle to give sufficient time to.
The recommendations from the Climate Assembly are recommendations for Government, but they also show the extent of opportunity available for private investment to deliver the products and services that the British public will demand. The first job for government and business though is to better explain the need for change and create products and campaigns that show that this transformation can be desirable as well as virtuous.