A failure to persuade the public to change behaviour leaves the UK off track to meet its climate targets, according to a crossbench group of Lords.
A report by the group found that a third of the emissions the UK must cut by 2035 to limit the impacts of climate change must come from people changing their behaviours, such as by insulating homes, using less energy and being incentivised to travel, shop and eat in a more environmentally friendly way.
But the government’s efforts are “seriously inadequate” and will prevent the UK from reaching its target of net zero emissions by 2050, the Lords environment and climate change select committee said.
The report comes as Prime Minister Liz Truss is criticised for reportedly blocking plans for a public information campaign asking people to conserve energy over winter, and for holding back on a mass energy efficiency programme in homes.
The government’s own climate and infrastructure advisers last month urged it to develop “credible policies” for energy efficiency in buildings and to provide a comprehensive energy advice service.
People need to understand which changes “they need to make in their lifestyles and how they travel, how they use energy in their homes and what they buy and what they eat… but there’s simply barriers to people effectively stopping them at the moment,” Baroness Parminter told Sky News.
The committee recommended measures like eco labelling on food; a frequent flier levy; tightening energy efficiency standards on new homes and creating a contact service to guide households through the currently extremely confusing process of making their homes more energy efficient.
“The government needs to use all the levers that it has, either through regulation or fiscal incentives, to overcome some of these barriers of cost or accessibility, that are stopping people making the changes that we know from the evidence that people want to make,” the Liberal Democrat peer claimed.
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The report tells the government to learn from the success of the 5p plastic bag charge, the sugar tax, and efforts to reduce smoking to shift people’s behaviour to reduce the impact on the warming climate.
Baroness Parminter said the COVID-19 pandemic demonstrated “how people responded to being given clear information by trusted sources to help build up a coalition of support for the measures”.
The recommendations go against the grain for many Conservatives who believe it is not the government’s job to tell people what to do.
Alexander Stafford MP, member of the Conservative Environment Network of more than 150 MPs, said “telling people how to live their lives and demanding behavioural change won’t work”.
Instead, “we must encourage technological innovation to create cheaper and greener goods and services” – as has partially happened with electric vehicles, he said.
He added: “It is wrong to suggest adopting coronavirus-style public communications and using regulation to restrict people’s choices without providing better alternatives to tackle climate change. That would divide people and undermine efforts to unite people behind environmental action.”
The Lords also warned policies needed to shift people’s habits and meet net zero risk being “undermined” by lobbying from the fossil fuel industry and parts of the food sector, akin to past lobbying by big tobacco.
Libby Peake, head of resource policy at think tank Green Alliance, said people “want to do the right thing when it comes to the climate, but at the moment, it can be too complicated or too expensive”.
She told Sky News: “We will only succeed in tackling climate change if we make the best thing to do for the environment the easiest choice.”
A government spokesperson said they would provide a full response in due course, but said they remained “fully committed” to the net zero target, and had also launched the Net Zero Review.
“By gathering the views of the public and businesses, this review will ensure the UK’s fight against climate change maximises economic growth, energy security and affordability for consumers and businesses,” they added.
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