Imagine a world where you drive to work in an electric vehicle, where you can warm your home with a boiler powered by renewable energy, and where when you go to a restaurant there are more vegetarian options on the menu than meat. This is the ambition of the Sixth Carbon Budget and its plan is to achieve this by the mid-2030s.
These are hugely exciting plans but ones that come attached to a big communication challenge.
Time and again, opinion polls show there is widespread support for the UK reaching it’s net zero ambitions. However, when you look at specific actions that impact people’s way of life they are less popular. This can be seen with a quarter (24 per cent) of drivers who can’t foresee themselves ever buying an electric car in their lifetime, through to shoppers who say they want to buy fashion more sustainably but don’t want to pay extra for it.
At least 16% of the reductions in emissions envisioned by the Sixth Carbon Budget relies solely on behaviour changes like changing diet or flying less. So will people still be as “bought in” to net zero when they are told they have to eat 20% less meat and dairy products by 2030?
There is cause for optimism as a group of 108 people from across the UK have already met to help answer how to address some of these difficult questions. They met as part of the Climate Assembly UK which published a report in September that provided some specific recommendations that would impact upon consumption and public behaviour. This included introducing a tax that increases as people fly more often or targets for reducing meat consumption. The aim of this report was to give the Government some clear recommendations on how they can deliver policy and this will be important material as they look to implement the Sixth Carbon Budget’s recommendation.
But each participant in the Climate Assembly spent 60 hours to hear from 47 expert speakers. They were fully immersed in the importance of the challenge and the potential solutions. It is worth remembering, however, that the broader electorate on the other hand has differing starting points. There interests, knowledge and the importance they attach to reaching net zero is varied.
This means that the Government and all the political parties are going to have a key role to play. Not only in implementing all of the recommendations but also keeping the public supportive. The Committee on Climate Change says that implementing the Sixth Carbon Budget will be a chance to jump-start the UK’s economic recovery and there will also be huge economic opportunities for business in the transition. So it is important for these businesses to play a key role in communicating the benefits to end consumers as well.
Beyond the communication challenge, there is a broader challenge for the Government. The Committee on Climate Change is clear that the 2020s must be the decisive decade of progress and action on climate change. However, despite recent encouraging ambition from Boris Johnson we still lack the detail. Hopefully, this will come in the energy white paper and other long-awaited policies but that won’t be enough. Every part of government will need to drive in the same direction and deliver these ambitious targets. Simply put, the Government needs to be completely rewired to embed meeting net zero as a priority in every aspect of decision making.
Reaching net-zero offers huge opportunities for the UK economy and for us all to live more healthy and prosperous lives. The Sixth Carbon Budget makes us understand the scale of the challenge to achieve this transformation.
We as communicators now have an important role to play. We are going to have to ensure in all our work we talk about the opportunity and the benefit of this transition.
Today’s sixth carbon budget provides a detailed roadmap of how the UK can achieve net zero. This is hugely exciting but won’t be enough by itself. It is now up to communicators to help convince the public of the importance of realising this plan.