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  • Overview
  • Apr '24
    Reform voters and net zero
  • Mar '24
    Grantham Institute survey: What benefits do people think climate policies will bring?
  • Spring Budget 2024: A small number of ‘green-tinged’ measures
  • Jan '24
    Survey: Knowing someone with a heat pump increases support
  • Carbon Brief analysis shows record opposition to climate action by right-leaning UK newspapers in 2023
  • Nov '23
    Desmog publishes analysis of ‘anti-green’ Telegraph commentary on net zero
  • Comment: Bumps on the road to net zero in 2023
  • Tracker data: No signs of polarisation around the 2050 net zero target
  • Oct '23
    Public First polling: Delays to net zero make a party less electable
  • Conservatives urged to reconsider anti net zero strategy after Tamworth & Mid Bedfordshire by-elections
  • Scrapping, banning or delaying? Why question wording matters for understanding opinion on net zero
  • Climate Change Committee: Net zero targets are harder to achieve after changes to policies
  • Sep '23
    Onward league table shows which net zero policies are popular among voters
  • More in Common polling: Few Britons want the government to do less to reach net zero
  • Rishi Sunak announces delays to near-term net zero targets
  • Do people think net zero will be expensive, or can the costs fall fairly?
  • Jul '23
    International comparison: UK support for net zero policies
  • Sep '22
    Briefing paper: The road to net zero – UK public preferences for low-carbon lifestyles
Topic

Net Zero

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  • In Brief

    The UK has legally binding commitments to achieve net-zero emissions by 2050. But in terms of building support for the specifics of the transition, the journey has only just begun.

    Roughly 60% of emissions cuts will need to come through changes to the way that energy is consumed if net-zero targets are to be achieved. This means how people think and feel about the transition to net-zero is central to how fast (and how fairly) the transition takes place. 

    From the phase out of new petrol and diesel cars (and phase in of electric vehicles), to the installation of heat pumps and retrofitting of insulation, reaching net-zero emissions by 2050 requires ongoing public support and a broad political mandate.

    The Climate Change Committee has been clear that the government needs to empower and inform households and communities to make low-carbon choices, and calls for a step-change in government approaches to public engagement reflect the scale of the emissions cuts that must come through people supporting and undertaking shifts in behaviours (e.g. eating less meat) or adopting new technologies (e.g. heat pumps).

    How is opinion on net zero in the UK evolving?

  • Opinion Insight 14th March 2024

    Grantham Institute survey: What benefits do people think climate policies will bring?

    Policies to cut carbon can bring a range of ‘co-benefits’. From cleaner air, to warmer homes, to the prospect of green jobs, these co-benefits have often been advocated as a way to build support for net zero among people who may be more interested in these side-effects of climate policies than net zero itself.

    In a new survey led by Neil Jennings at the Grantham Institute (Imperial College London), just over 1000 people were asked to assess nine different potential co-benefits of action on climate change.

    The top response was ‘homes that are more affordable to heat’. This was chosen as the most important benefit for individuals, for communities, and for the country as a whole. It was also supported by voters of all parties. In the context of the eyewatering cost of energy over the past two years, cheaper heating bills were a universally popular co-benefit of action on climate change.

    Another popular response was ‘improved energy security’. This makes a lot of sense, given that the rise in energy prices over the past two years was driven by a spike in the price of imported gas in the wake of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. And there’s growing evidence that renewables as a route to a more secure, homegrown energy system is a popular proposition across the political spectrum.

    Interestingly, there was much less support for the idea that climate policies could be drivers of job creation. The prospect of green jobs has routinely been used by campaigners and politicians alike to build support for net zero. But this survey – backed by wider research – suggests that claims about green jobs may not land as well as is assumed.

    But the survey makes it clear there’s work to do to persuade the public that even the most popular co-benefits are feasible in practice, with fewer people agreeing they’re practically achievable than identifying them as desirable in the first place.

    The problem here isn’t a lack of positivity towards job creation, its the level of trust in the government to deliver them. Whether its warmer homes, energy security, or new green jobs, practical and tangible examples of climate policies actually delivering the benefits people want to see play a crucial role.

    Climate policies really can deliver a whole host of positives. But when it comes to persuading the public of net zero co-benefits, seeing is believing.

    • Source: Imperial College London
    • Authors: Dr Neil Jennings, Dr Pauline Paterson, Prof Lorraine Whitmarsh, Dr Candice Howarth
    • Date: 6th March 2024
    Policy Insight 7th March 2024

    Spring Budget 2024: A small number of ‘green-tinged’ measures

    The Spring 2024 budget was extremely light on green spending announcements – making it one of the least green budgets” of recent years according to reporting in The Guardian.

    Given that the net zero economy is booming across the country – and that both voters and MPs see clean energy as the sector most likely to generate further growth – the absence of additional green investment is perhaps the most striking climate takeaway.

    There were a smattering of ‘green tinged’ announcements (rounded up by Carbon Brief) which included:

    • A rise in Air Passenger Duty levied on Business Class flights and above, which have higher per-passenger carbon emissions. This policy reflects the broad agreement among voters that those who emit the most through their flights should pay more. However, ‘new taxes on flying’ were one of the (not yet implemented) policies that Rishi Sunak ‘scrapped’ in his net zero speech in September 2023.
    • An extension of the current ‘windfall tax’ being levied on oil and gas company profits will be extended until 2029. This is a straightforwardly popular policy: polling by Greenpeace in 2023 found that almost nine in ten people (87%) want to see a loophole-free windfall tax on the profits of oil and gas companies. And Climate Barometer tracker data shows that energy companies are seen as one of main culprits for the current high price of energy (alongside the war in Ukraine, and the government themselves).

    The budget did not include any measures to reduce the cost of charging electric vehicles (EVs) – something that the former Top Gear journalist Quentin Wilson’s FairCharge campaign had been calling for. In fact, by extending the freeze on duty charged on petrol and diesel fuels, the budget prioritised petrol and diesel motoring over EVs.

    • Date: 6th March 2024
    Opinion Insight 18th January 2024

    Survey: Knowing someone with a heat pump increases support

    In a survey of 2000 people, researchers at Cardiff and Bath universities explored public support for low carbon heating technologies (including heat pumps), and the factors that influence this support.

    The survey found the majority of the respondents had at least a small amount of knowledge about low carbon heating options, and when provided with further information, held favourable views. Heat pumps (likely due to their prominence in policy discussions) were identified as the low carbon heating technology with the highest level of support.

    Concerns about energy security, and pro-environmental attitudes were two factors which led to higher support for heat pumps. But the research also uncovered another important driver: knowing someone who has already had one installed.

    Dubbed the ‘social circle effect’, people’s willingness to adopt low carbon heating options increased if they knew even one person who already had a heat pump.

    Media Insight 16th January 2024

    Carbon Brief analysis shows record opposition to climate action by right-leaning UK newspapers in 2023

    An analysis by the website Carbon Brief has found a record number of editorials in UK newspapers (almost exclusively right-leaning publications) that oppose climate action. Carbon Brief writes:

    Newspapers such as the Sun and the Daily Mail published 42 editorials in 2023 arguing against climate action – nearly three times more than they have printed before in a single year. They called for delays to UK bans on the sale of fossil fuel-powered cars and boilers, as well as for more oil-and-gas production in the North Sea. In response to such demands, prime minister Rishi Sunak performed a “U-turn” in September on some of his government’s major net-zero policies.

    Climate Barometer tracker data suggests a correspondence (cause and effect is harder to establish) between the views of Conservative MPs on net zero policies, and the views expressed in these editorials. But among the public there is not such a clear relationship, with even Conservative voters ambivalent on whether delays to net zero targets are in touch, or out of touch with public sentiment:

    Opposition to climate policies is not only found in right-leaning editorials, however. An analysis by the the Centre for Countering Digital Hate found a surge in what they call ‘new denial’ narratives on Youtube in 2023. These include attempts to discredit green energy technologies, or exaggerate their cost – positions that mirror the editorial content analysed by Carbon Brief.

    Media Insight 23rd November 2023

    Desmog publishes analysis of ‘anti-green’ Telegraph commentary on net zero

    Desmog reviewed more than 2,000 Telegraph opinion pieces and editorials published online over a six month period, ending in 16 October.

    The website reported that of 171 opinion pieces that dealt with environmental issues, 85 percent were identified as “anti-green”, meaning they were attacking climate policy, questioning climate science or ridiculing environmental groups.

    The chart below shows the number of daily anti-green op-eds reached a peak around the Uxbridge by-election in July, as the debate around clean air zones reached a crescendo.

    Although there isn’t a straightforward ’cause and effect’ relationship between media commentary and public opinion, this volume of coverage provides a loud drumbeat of anti-green commentary to Conservative MPs in particular (more than half say they read the Telegraph regularly), which is likely to be influencing the views they infer their constituents have on a range of green policies.

    We see this clearly in the ‘perception gap‘ MPs have on onshore wind, but increasingly on clean air zones and other green policies too, where opposition among the public is significantly overestimated.

    • Source: DeSmog
    • Authors: Joey Grostern, Michaela Herrmann and Phoebe Cooke
    • Date: 23rd November 2023
    Climate Barometer Tracker 10th November 2023

    Tracker data: No signs of polarisation around the 2050 net zero target

    Three waves of Climate Barometer tracker data show that there is no evidence of polarisation among the public or among MPs in terms of support for the 2050 net zero target. This is important in the context of the shifts in the discourse on net zero in 2023 (driven by the announcement of delays to some nearer-term net zero targets) by the Conservative government.

    In the figure below, there is majority support among Conservative and Labour voters and Conservative and Labour MPs (Conservative and Labour voters are defined by the party they voted for in the 2019 General Election).

    In the figure below, despite the widespread support for net zero among both MPs and the public across party lines, MPs from both major political parties tend to underestimate levels of public support. Only 28% of MPs (27% of Conservative MPs and 24% of Labour MPs) correctly guessed between 60-71%.

    Opinion Insight 27th October 2023

    Public First polling: Delays to net zero make a party less electable

    Based on a survey of 2000 people, Public First have argued that a turn against net zero is a risky political maneuver: by testing different combinations of policy propositions with voters (on the environment and more widely) they found that green investment is one of the most universally popular offers across the electorate, and that whilst anti net-zero sentiment doesn’t move the dial much for those who agree it, for those who oppose it, its a significant vote loser. Public First reports that:

    Increased investment in renewable sources and new taxes on the largest polluters in a wider policy platform makes a party 14% more electable

    Delaying net zero and continued oil and gas drilling in the North Sea in a wider policy platform makes a party 10% less electable

    Voters have genuine questions (and in some cases concerns) about how specific green policies will impact their personal finances and day-to-day lives. These questions should be taken seriously by campaigners and politicians alike to build public support.

    But as an electoral strategy, this research shows that reducing net zero ambition, backing away from green investment, and failing to hasten the transition away from fossil fuels are vote losers, rather than winners.

    • Source: Public First
    • Author: Seb Wride
    • Date: 26th October 2023
    Policy Insight 23rd October 2023

    Conservatives urged to reconsider anti net zero strategy after Tamworth & Mid Bedfordshire by-elections

    In July 2023, the Uxbridge by-election was – rightly or wrongly – interpreted as indicating there was appetite among voters for anti net-zero sentiment and rhetoric. Whilst some of the measures Rishi Sunak subsequently announced in September 2023 – slowing down the phase out of gas boilers and petrol/diesel vehicles – received a positive reaction from Conservative voters in polling, there was no obvious gain in political capital.

    The heavy losses incurred by the Conservatives in two subsequent October 2023 by-elections are being read by some political commentators as a sign that the anti net zero push didn’t bring voters flocking back to the party.

    Sam Hall, the Director of the Conservative Environment Network (CEN), argued that Sunak is ‘gambling with his party’s hard won green credentials’.

    Read the Climate Barometer’s analysis of what the Tamworth and Mid Bedfordshire by-elections do – and don’t – tell us about public opinion on climate policies.

     

    Opinion Insight 17th October 2023

    Scrapping, banning or delaying? Why question wording matters for understanding opinion on net zero

    Scotland has a net zero policy framework that is more ambitious than the UK’s overall targets.

    Polling by PanelBase (commissioned by The Times) found Scottish public opinion on delaying the phase out of gas boilers and the sale of new petrol and diesel vehicles was broadly in line with wider UK patterns, with support for delaying current heating targets slightly higher (45%) than opposition (38%), and support for delaying the petrol/diesel vehicle phase out date higher (51%) than opposition (38%).

    The wording of the question participants were asked on gas boilers was, however, misleading, with people asked if they supported or opposed “Rishi Sunak’s decision to scrap the phasing out of gas boilers?”

    The policy has not been scrapped – the phase out date has been extended.

    Combined with the ‘scrapping’ of policies that did not in fact exist in Sunak’s September speech (e.g. a ‘meat tax’), there’s a pattern of using terms like ‘ban’ ‘scrap’ and ‘phase out’ interchangeably in a way that’s likely to mislead voters, and in this case potentially skew assessments of public opinion.

    Climate Barometer tracker data provides a clear signal over time on key net zero policies like the phasing out of petrol/diesel vehicles and gas boilers.

    Policy Insight 13th October 2023

    Climate Change Committee: Net zero targets are harder to achieve after changes to policies

    In a straightforward rejection of the central claim behind the government’s announcements in September 2023 of delays to key net zero targets – that the changes would save households money – the Climate Change Committee issued a response emphasising that the changes would in fact make net zero harder to achieve, as well as be more costly. Explore the Climate Barometer narrative thread on climate policies, public opinion and the costs of living here.

    The Climate Change Committee wrote:

    The cancellation of some Net Zero measures is likely to increase both energy bills and motoring costs for households – households who are also facing increasing impacts from climate change. Electric vehicles will be significantly cheaper than petrol and diesel vehicles to own and operate over their lifetimes, so any undermining of their roll-out will ultimately increase costs. The cancellation of regulations on the private-rented sector will lead to higher household energy bills

     

    Opinion Insight 29th September 2023

    Onward league table shows which net zero policies are popular among voters

    Public First and Onward tested the support of 24 policies which would cut greenhouse gas emissions (some were existing government policies and some were not). All 24 received net-positive ratings looking across all voters, with energy efficiency measures, ramping up renewables (wind and solar), incentivising green home upgrades, planting trees, investment in public transport, and policies to help people switch to electric cars all proving highly popular.

    Conservative voters currently did not support the phasing out of sales of new petrol/diesel cars by 2030 or gas boilers by 2035, but the report argues that:

    Importantly, opposition is to targets and deadlines rather than the technologies

     

    Understanding which net zero policies are consistently popular among the electorate is as important as understanding what the current barriers to support are for less popular policies: ‘win win’ ideas such as incentivising home upgrades/rolling out insulation are a way to hold the net zero conversation with voters on less contentious ground than, for example, low traffic neighbourhoods.

     

    Opinion Insight 21st September 2023

    More in Common polling: Few Britons want the government to do less to reach net zero

    With the amount of airtime dedicated to the government’s plans to slow down some aspects of the UK’s net zero legislation, it can be easy to forget that for a large number of voters – across the Britain’s Choice audience segments – there is an expectation that the government should do more, not less, on climate change.

    • Authors: Luke Tryl, More in Common
    • Date: 21st September 2023
    Policy Insight 20th September 2023

    Rishi Sunak announces delays to near-term net zero targets

    In an unusual televised speech, Prime Minister Rishi Sunak announced a set of changes to current net zero legislation. Most notably, Sunak confirmed delays to the dates on which the sale of new petrol and diesel vehicles, and separately new gas-fired boilers, would be phased out.

    The delays are to net zero targets that the Conservative Party itself set.

    Sunak also announced that he would be ‘scrapping’ a number of policies, which in fact had not been implemented in the first place. This included ruling out any ‘new taxes’ on flights.

    The changes were positioned as protecting households – already stretched by a prolonged cost-of-living crisis – from unreasonable burdens in the pursuit of net zero.

    • Source: GOV.UK
    • Date: 20th September 2023
    Opinion Insight 8th September 2023

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

    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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