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  • Overview
  • Mar '24
    Climate action dashboard: Trends in public opinion 2020-2023
  • Jan '24
    Research paper: Reducing inequality makes behaviour change for net zero more achievable
  • Nov '23
    Comment: Is ‘behaviour change’ a contentious topic or an essential part of net zero?
  • Tracker data: What actions are the public and MPs taking to address climate change?
  • Oct '23
    Tracker data: Majority of the public support a tax on frequent flyers
  • Climate Change Committee: How behaviour change can become part of UK climate policies
  • New research: What personal climate actions are British people of colour undertaking?
  • Apr '23
    Tracker data: Some public willingness to pay extra climate tax
  • Dec '22
    Understanding support for the frequent flyer levy
  • Sep '22
    Briefing paper: The road to net zero – UK public preferences for low-carbon lifestyles
  • Jun '21
    Britain Talks Climate – which segments are engaging in behaviour change?
  • Research paper: High carbon lifestyles can undermine climate messaging
  • Jan '21
    Climate Outreach resource: Lifestyle change & system change are two sides of the same coin
  • Dec '20
    UN Environment Programme report: the importance of lifestyle change for closing the ’emissions gap’
  • Oct '20
    CAST data portal: support for lifestyle change in the UK (vs Brazil, China & Sweden)
Topic

Behaviour Change

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  • In Brief

    Behaviour change – actions people can take to reduce the amount of energy they consume – plays a central role in reaching net zero, especially for those with high carbon footprints.

    Without changes in energy consumption (using and wasting less), travel habits (increasing public transport use and active travel), and the balance of food types in our diets, net zero by 2050 will be impossible to achieve: one recent estimate suggests around 60% of the emissions cuts required to reach net zero will come through behavioural changes in some form.

    But the idea of ‘changing behaviours’ has often had a turbulent relationship with climate policy and campaigns. Across diet, travel and energy use, there are differing levels of support for changing behaviours, and differing levels of willingness to do so.

    There’s no shortage of analyses into the sorts of behaviour changes that can reduce emissions. And its long been understood that consumption emissions are strongly skewed towards those with higher disposable incomes.

    But politically, the topic remains controversial, and because of the huge variation in the size of individual carbon footprints across society, there is no one-size-fits-all message on shifting behaviours on the path to net zero.

    This thread captures insights relating to people’s willingness to make behavioural changes in pursuit of net zero, as well as resources that provide guidance on how to communicate and campaign around shifting behaviours.

  • 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.

    Climate Barometer Tracker 30th November 2023

    Tracker data: What actions are the public and MPs taking to address climate change?

    The latest Climate Barometer tracker data compares the actions that the public and MPs say they are taking to address climate change in their personal lives.

    The most frequent behaviours include: Recycling and reducing plastic use, reducing electricity use, and buying local foods and reducing food waste

    The least frequent behaviours include: becoming vegan, installing heat pumps, carbon offsetting when flying, and installing solar panels

    MPs are more likely to take part in actions like walking/cycling or taking public transport to work, driving an electric vehicle, as well as buying local foods and choosing environmentally friendly brands (likely due to MPs being part of a subset of the population who are wealthier). 

    There’s a similar trend for household behaviours, where MPs are more likely to have improved their home insulation, and switched to renewable energy. However, this does not carry through to all areas: MPs have not installed solar panels or a heat pump in greater numbers than the public. MPs are understandably more likely to have contacted MPs about climate change than the public. 

    Around 17% of both MPs and the public say they have taken none of these actions for environmental reasons.

    Climate Barometer Tracker 26th October 2023

    Tracker data: Majority of the public support a tax on frequent flyers

    Data from our Climate Barometer tracker shows that more than half of people in the UK support a tax on frequent flyers (52%), while just 18% say they oppose this outright. A substantial number neither support nor oppose this (21%), while a further don’t know (9%), suggesting support could be increased further, if the frequent flyer levy was given more prominence.

    Read our Barometer Analysis of how support for the frequent flyer levy changes across different types of audiences: whilst the basic concept is likely to be seen as fair, people who would not be affected by the levy may nonetheless believe they will be, without clarity on how the policy would operate.

    Policy Insight 11th October 2023

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

    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.

    • Source: Climate Change Committee
    • Authors: Kaloyan Mitev, Lois Player, Caroline Verfuerth, Steve Westlake, Lorraine Whitmarsh
    • Date: 11th September 2023
    Opinion Insight 5th October 2023

    New research: What personal climate actions are British people of colour undertaking?

    A report seeking to spotlight how people of colour experience and engage with climate change in Britain finds that people of colour show very high levels of personal engagement with climate actions (73% having changed their lifestyles in response to climate change).

    Horizontal bar chart showing how often British people of colour take part in certain lifestyle changes in response to climate change.

    Despite this, many still face barriers to action:

    “The single most commonly reported barrier was other things taking up people’s time and energy (82%). Perceived insufficiency of climate awareness or knowledge (80%), difficulty or inconvenience of climate actions (77%), and perceived inefficacy of individual action (73%), were also commonly reported to be significant barriers to taking individual action on climate change”

     

    • Authors: Charles Ogunbode, Nick Anim, Jeremy Kidwell, Amiera Sawas, Serayna Solanki
    Climate Barometer Tracker 26th April 2023

    Tracker data: Some public willingness to pay extra climate tax

    Climate Barometer Tracker findings from April 2023 shows that there is some public willingness to pay an extra tax for climate action. While a large proportion of the public are unwilling to pay an extra tax, overall, equal or greater numbers are willing to pay some amount of extra tax.

    This holds true across the lowest and the highest income brackets, with members of higher income brackets slightly more willing to pay larger amounts. For instance, around 25-30% of those earning £70,000 or more per year say they’re willing to pay more than £300-1500 per year for effective climate action, and 9% of those earning £100,000 or more per year are willing to pay more than £1500 per year in extra tax for climate action.

    Opinion Insight 17th June 2021

    Britain Talks Climate – which segments are engaging in behaviour change?

    Grounded in More in Common’s ‘Britain’s Choice’ audience segmentation, Britain Talks Climate provides insights and guidance on how to engage the seven segments that span the breadth of British society.

    The two ‘Disengaged’ segments are the least likely to engage in low-carbon behaviours, although they are also likely to have among the lowest carbon footprints.

    Civic Pragmatists regularly give to charity, are highly involved in their local community and engage in a range of ‘personal’ low-carbon behaviours

    Progressive Activists are the most likely to engage in a range of low-carbon behaviours

    From the Climate Community 15th June 2021

    Research paper: High carbon lifestyles can undermine climate messaging

    In new research written up in a commentary for The Conversation, the risk of political leaders’ high carbon lifestyles could undermine the credibility of the messages they convey on climate change. Whilst the research focuses specifically on political leaders, the same arguments apply to a wide range of individuals and organisations who deliver climate messages (including the climate movement itself).

    “The public fully understand political leaders have tight schedules and their activities inevitably involve plenty of high-carbon activities such as air travel.

    But people are also very sensitive to the details of each specific situation and alert to signals and behavioural cues from leaders. Context is crucial.

    If our leaders are not perceived as fully committed, will they be able to take the public with them as the need for behaviour change becomes more and more pressing?”

    From the Climate Community 19th January 2021

    Climate Outreach resource: Lifestyle change & system change are two sides of the same coin

    This short animation from Climate Outreach makes the case that ‘behaviour change’ and ‘system change’ are not mutually exclusive, as some advocates suggest.

    Instead, they should be seen as ‘two sides of the same coin’, with individual action part of broader engagement with climate change and one way in which people can build a sense of agency and ‘efficacy’ (that their actions matter).

    From the Climate Community 11th December 2020

    UN Environment Programme report: the importance of lifestyle change for closing the ’emissions gap’

    In a first for the annual Emissions Gap report, a chapter on emissions from lifestyle changes concluded that behavioural changes – from those with high carbon footprints – are essential for bridging the gap between current emissions levels and those consistent with the UN Paris agreement

    The graphic below shows how skewed emissions are across different income groups

    From the Climate Community 5th October 2020

    CAST data portal: support for lifestyle change in the UK (vs Brazil, China & Sweden)

    The centre for Climate Change & Social Transformations (CAST) carried out a set of global surveys with over 3000 participants from Brazil, China, Sweden and the UK in 2020 (the survey is repeated annually)

    Large majorities from across borders, age divides and financial backgrounds were positive on the need for action on climate change.

    Click through to the CAST dashboard to filter the results further.

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