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Government must support behaviour change to meet climate targets

12 October 2022

The Environment and Climate Change Committee has published a report which warns that the Government's current approach to enabling behaviour change is seriously inadequate and will result in the UK failing to meet its net zero and environment targets.

The Committee identified—drawing on the Committee on Climate Change’s assessment—that one third of greenhouse gas emissions reductions up to 2035 require decisions by individuals and households to adopt low carbon technologies and choose low-carbon products and services, as well as reduce carbon-intensive consumption.

The Committee found that while the Government has introduced some policies to help people adopt new technologies, like electric cars, that focus has not been replicated in other areas. The Committee concluded that there has been too great a reliance on as yet undeveloped technologies to get the UK to net zero and a reluctance to help people cut carbon-intensive consumption.

During the inquiry the Committee heard from 146 organisations from across the UK and further afield including businesses, local authorities, charities and think tanks as well as government ministers, academics & researchers, and young people.

Chair’s comments

Baroness Parminter, Chair of the Environment and Climate Change Committee said:

“After a summer of record temperatures, fires and hose pipe bans, it has never been more apparent that the twin crises of climate change and nature loss demand an immediate and sustained response.

People power is critical to reach our environmental goals, but unless we are encouraged and enabled to change behaviours in how we travel, what we eat and buy and how we heat our homes, we won’t meet those targets. Polling shows the public is ready for leadership from the Government. People want to know how to play their part in tackling climate change and environmental damage. 

The Government’s mantra of “going with the grain of consumer choice” demonstrates a reluctance to help people cut carbon-intensive consumption. It is in a unique position to guide the public in changing their behaviours, however their approach is inadequate in the face of the urgent scale of the environmental challenge.

The Prime Minister urgently needs to set out her vision of a country where low carbon choices and behaviours can flourish.”

Key recommendations

The Committee recommends that the Government should:  

  • learn from examples of where it has enabled behaviour change, including during the COVID-19 pandemic, and enable people to make the necessary shifts in the key areas of how we travel, what we eat, what we buy and how we use energy at home 
  • launch a public engagement campaign to build support for helping people to adopt new technologies and reduce carbon-intensive consumption in the key areas where behaviour change is required 
  • help the public to reduce carbon and resource-intensive consumption in diets, products, services and travel
  • use the Net Zero Forum, announced in October 2021, to address the coordination, resourcing and responsibilities between local and central government, recognising the key role of local authorities in helping enable behaviour change in local communities
  • use every lever the Government has–including regulations and fiscal incentives and disincentives–to address the barriers which prevent changing behaviours
  • place fairness at the heart of policy design and tailor behaviour change interventions to avoid placing a burden on those who can least afford it. For example, providing financing support for low-income households as part of a national drive to improve the energy efficiency of our homes.

Further information