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Cost of Living

Do people think net zero will be expensive, or can the costs fall fairly?

08 September 2023

In polling carried out by Redfield & Wilton, people were asked ‘how expensive’ it will for the United Kingdom to commit to reducing carbon emissions to net zero by 2050. They report that a majority of voters (61%) believe it will ‘expensive’ or ‘very expensive’ for the country to pursue net zero targets, with only 26% agreeing that the costs of the transition have been ‘fairly applied so far’.

In this poll, people were not asked how expensive they thought it would be for them or at a household level, so it is not clear on what basis the cost estimate is being made. Wider polling shows there is a general expectation that the fossil fuel industry and energy companies should foot the bill for climate change, rather than this coming through taxation.

That said, there is a clear flag here for campaigners: the public will need convincing that the costs of the transition can be fairly applied (and that in practice they actually are).

Policies like IPPR’s ‘Fairness Lock‘ are designed to articulate what ‘fairly applied’ means in practice – aiming to protect lower-income households from the costs of green policies. And Climate Barometer tracker data (below) offers another way to gauge what ‘fair’ could look like.

We asked people to imagine that the UK taking effective action to reduce climate change required some increases in tax to pay for these efforts. Who should pay these taxes?

As the figure shows, the most popular responses are split between ‘everyone’, those who earn over £50,000 (the higher tax rate) and ‘no one’, although the balance of these responses moves around according to voting intention, underscoring the different notions of fairness held by different voters.

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The latest from the Cost of Living timeline:

Opinion Insight 21st February 2024

Survey: Three quarters of the public are worried about the impact of climate change on their bills

In a survey of 2000 people carried out by Opinium, on behalf of Positive Money, 75% of UK adults were concerned about the impact of climate change on the cost of heating or cooling their home, while 69% were worried about the impact of grocery prices, 54% on the price of housing or rent, 74% on electricity costs, 68% on the cost of water and 59% on transport costs.

These concerns about ‘climateflation’ show that the perceived impacts of climate change are not confined to changes in the weather (although these are becoming more noticeable to people too).

Climate Barometer data backs this up – concern about the impact of climate change on household bills was the third most common choice behind ‘harm to nature and wildlife’ and ‘suffering and hardship for the world’s poorest’.

Separate analysis investigating the cost of ‘not zero‘ (i.e. not pursuing net zero goals fast enough) by the Energy & Climate Intelligence Unit (ECIU) supports people’s concerns: households really are facing higher bills because of a lack of action on climate change. Their calculations reveal that cumulative savings of £70bn on the UK’s energy bill could have been made had investments happened over past decade.

The Positive Money report emphasises that these climate-linked costs are disproportionately felt by lower income households.

Climate Barometer Tracker 10th November 2023

Tracker data: Majority of public think climate inaction will cost too much

Despite having concerns about the costs of climate change, and the cost of living, people in the UK have a clear understanding of the trade-offs necessary for climate action. Despite minor shifts, a majority still feel that it will cost too much *not* to tackle climate change now. A smaller percentage (23% in our most recent wave)  say that “it will cost too much to tackle climate change now”.

View Cost of Living timeline now

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