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Behaviour Change

Climate Change Committee: How behaviour change can become part of UK climate policies

11 October 2023

A wide-ranging analysis from the centre for Climate Change & Social Transformations (CAST) on behalf of the Climate Change Committee (CCC) reveals that substantial behaviour change is required across society to reach the UK’s ambitious net-zero 2050 target, with 60% of reductions needing to come from (or at least be endorsed by) consumers

In a series of recommendations for mainstreaming behaviour change approaches as part of the UK’s approach to climate policy, the report argues that:

The provision of information is important in some circumstances – for example for young people choosing a green career –  and can provide a rationale for wider policy interventions. But the provision of information alone is not enough to shift consumption behaviours in society

Climate policies which are perceived to be fair are more likely to be acceptable to the public.

The public largely support a reduction in the consumption of red meat and dairy, with many already reducing their consumption of beef, pork and dairy products…altering the food environment, for example by taxing high-carbon foods, labelling, subsidising meat-free options, and increasing plant-based options, would be likely to encourage further (and more equitable) behaviour change

Many of those who fly are reluctant to reduce their air travel because of its associations with pleasure, freedom, and social status (although recent studies suggest social norms around flying may be shifting). Strategies targeting individuals, such as increasing climate awareness or concern don’t typically result in behaviour change when it comes to air travel.

However, a Frequent Flyer Levy or Frequent Air Miles Tax have the potential to be effective in reducing aviation demand and to be perceived as fair by the public.

Reference article:

  • Source: Climate Change Committee
  • Authors: Kaloyan Mitev, Lois Player, Caroline Verfuerth, Steve Westlake, Lorraine Whitmarsh
  • Date: 11th September 2023

The latest from the Behaviour Change timeline:

Opinion Insight 5th January 2024

Research paper: Reducing inequality makes behaviour change for net zero more achievable

In an open access research paper in the journal Nature Climate Change, Charlotte Kukowski and Emma Garnett argue that reducing inequality is not simply a positive ‘co-benefit’ of well-designed climate policies (although in a cost of living crisis, the affordability of green policies is a major consideration for voter support).

Instead the authors argue that many of the behavioural changes necessary to reduce emissions from travel or food consumption are simply not possible where income inequalities remain high. The paper uses an example of rural/urban travel costs and rent prices to illustrate how it may be easier for wealthier citizens to make low carbon travel choices:

While London boasts the cheapest bus fares and the most comprehensive public transport network in the UK, it also ranks highest for house prices and rents. Although rent and property prices can be lower in rural areas than in cities, the deregulation and subsequent privatization of the UK bus network in the 1980s have led to fare increases, a marked decrease in ridership, service fragmentation, increased car ownership and dependence, and transport-associated social exclusion, which disproportionately affect poorer citizens in rural communities

The analysis and recommendations for addressing ‘carbon inequality’ offer a different way of thinking about the challenge of population-scale behaviour changes: many policies are not currently viewed as fair by the public in large part because they aren’t currently equally accessible to people across the income spectrum.

The paper concludes that addressing general inequality, in turn makes behaviour change for net zero more feasible.

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