A net-zero future in our hands?
In June 2019, the UK Government introduced legislation that set a target for the nation to be net zero carbon by 2050. Where net zero allows for any remaining emissions being balanced by off-set schemes like tree planting or carbon capture and storage.
Getting to net zero is obviously an essential, and increasingly urgent, step in tackling the climate crisis. It will help support the resilience of the UK’s environment and biodiversity, its infrastructure and economy, and the health and wellbeing of the population against the accelerating – and all too visible – impacts of climate change.
It was acknowledged at the time that hitting this target would require a rapid and sustained response across all aspects of the UK’s private, public and non-profit sectors, as well as wider society. Commitment to this response feels finely poised, if not fragile, given the global context and political and economic uncertainties that have dominated the last few years.
Against this backdrop, in October 2022, the House of Lords published a report from its Environment and Climate Change Committee into the viability of meeting the 2050 target, titled In our hands: behaviour change for climate and environmental goals. The report’s conclusions are clear.
The overriding observation is that ‘people power’ is essential to the UK reaching its net-zero target. The report reviews the Government’s track record across the intervening three+ years, and concludes that, despite some successes, there was a general reluctance from policymakers to engage the population and help people cut carbon-intensive consumption, with too much reliance on as-yet unproven technological solutions to what is a very human challenge.
This conclusion is welcome, reinforcing a view that has been accepted and called for by experts, campaigners and commentators for years. So far, this lack of willingness to engage with the public not only delays the response, but allows the space to be filled by increasingly polarised and non-productive debate.
The report also explores the ways in which behaviour change can be implemented, and finds that “people want to know how to play their part in tackling climate change and environmental damage, and the Government is in a unique position to guide the public in changing their behaviours”.
This absolutely matches our own experience, proven again and again across many behaviour change campaigns, like Recycle Now for WRAP, Keep it Clear for Anglian Water, and Stop Swap Go! for Essex County Council. When it comes to embracing new behaviours, such as recycling more, saving water, wasting less food or using more sustainable forms of transport, people certainly have the appetite. What they need is the motivation, the information and messaging, the tools and support, and the reward mechanisms that make it easier to choose to act, and keep acting.
Engage and inspire
So, how do we engage people in the journey to zero carbon? How do we persuade, motivate and inspire them to play their part and embrace new carbon-reduction behaviours, at pace, and for the (very) long term? And how do we keep it equitable?
In the view of the House of Lords Committee, the Government has a pressing responsibility to take the lead, by providing clarity to the nation on the required changes, from how we travel, what we eat and buy, to how we use water and energy at home.
The report is unequivocal that the Government “should articulate the many co-benefits to health and wellbeing of taking those steps. A public engagement strategy, both to communicate a national narrative and build support for getting to net zero, is urgently required.” Further, it recommends that “a combination of policy levers, including regulation and fiscal incentives, must be used… alongside clear communication, as part of a joined-up approach to overcome the barriers to making low-carbon choices.”
The role of business
Of course, such a paradigm shift in how the UK approaches the journey to zero carbon doesn’t rest solely with national, or local, government. Every business and organisation has an urgent need to embed sustainability into their short and long-term strategy, and engage their colleagues, customers, suppliers and communities in adopting behaviours that will help make net zero by 2050 more than an eye-catching policy goal.
The benefits to putting sustainability at the forefront of business thinking are well documented:
- It helps encourage the actions and behaviours needed to sustain healthy and resilient economies, communities and, therefore, businesses.
- It can drive innovation, fresh thinking and positive business transformation.
- It de-risks business and supports compliance with statutory requirements that are only likely to become more onerous in the years ahead.
- It increasingly underpins reputation, trust and loyalty across all stakeholder groups, and can rival price as a driver of customer choice.
- It attracts investors, with many requiring companies to identify and report ESG factors that affect business performance.
- It influences the people you attract and retain in what is a highly competitive talent marketplace – one where prospective employees have the positive environmental impacts of potential employers near the top of their tick-list.
And all of these things, collectively, help drive and maintain forward progress towards national goals.
Whether you’re considering wide-reaching communications activity to tackle a behaviour change challenge, looking to revisit your own sustainable business strategy, or needing to create an initiative to engage and inspire your colleagues and other audiences around sustainability action, we can help.
Just drop me a line at Tim.Parr@CorporateCulture.co.uk or call me on 0845 607 0000