Skip to content

ICE and APPGI green paper: what are the public behavioural changes required to meet net zero?

30 October 2023

Public behaviour influences the pace and direction of economic change.

It will affect every sector of importance for the net zero transition to some degree.

The UK is committed to reaching net zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050.

Some changes that impact the public in the net zero transition will be decided nationally by the government, for example, different energy mixes.

However, public behaviour is dependent on policy decisions.

The National Infrastructure Commission (NIC) also identified in the recent second National Infrastructure Assessment (NIA) that public behavioural change should be supported in a way that is ‘fair and affordable’.

In October 2022, the House of Lords Environment and Climate Change Committee (CCC) warned that the government’s current approach to enabling behaviour change was ‘seriously inadequate’.

They said it would result in the UK failing to meet its net zero and environment targets.

Lack of strategic direction

There is no public engagement strategy for net zero, despite the fact that the target is enshrined in law.

An assessment by the CCC has highlighted that without changes to people’s behaviours now, the 2050 net zero target isn’t achievable.

Drawing on this assessment, the committee identified that 32% of emissions reductions up to 2035 required decisions by individuals and households to adopt low carbon technologies and choose low-carbon products and services, as well as reduce carbon-intensive consumption.

Although the UK has decarbonised faster than any other major economy in the G7, this isn’t necessarily understood by the public.

Instead, there’s a perception of slow progress on the road to net zero.

So far, a lack of joined-up policymaking and wider policy incoherence has impacted the progress of the electric vehicle transition, decarbonising homes and investing in energy efficiency.

Any public engagement strategy on net zero should acknowledge the diversity and breadth of ‘the public.’

The ICE and APPGI green paper

This ICE and All-Party Parliamentary Group on Infrastructure green paper focuses on:

  • the changes required in public behaviour to achieve a net zero infrastructure system;
  • what a public engagement strategy to deliver this could look like; and
  • the barriers and mechanisms that impact behavioural change.

The paper also contextualises the current setting around net zero.

This includes the latest direction of travel from the government under Prime Minister Rishi Sunak and the restrictions placed upon the public financially due to inflation and the cost-of-living crisis.

It also considers lessons we can learn from international counterparts.

The UK must ensure that any way forward brings the public along on the journey to net zero.

This ICE green paper consultation seeks to gather evidence and views from infrastructure professionals, civil engineers, environmental groups and other interested stakeholders regarding the following key questions on the public behavioural changes required to reach net zero.

The questions include:

  • Question 1: What are the gaps and challenges in public engagement and net zero?
  • Question 2: What previous interventions on behavioural change generally have been successful? Can lessons be drawn from them?
  • Question 3: How can the net zero transition be made fair (i.e. with an equitable distribution of related costs and benefits) for all parts of society?
  • Question 4: What is preventing the public from making net-zero aligned choices? What can incentivise the public to make net-zero aligned choices?
  • Question 5: What lessons can be learned from other countries on public behaviour and net zero?
  • Question 6: In addition to government action, what else can be done to encourage public behavioural change to meet net zero?

Responses should be sent to the ICE policy team.

The consultation will close on 15 December 2023.

The findings from responses to this paper, alongside further evidence gathering, will be formed into a policy paper with recommendations which will be published in early 2024.

ICE and APPGI green paper: what are the public behavioural changes required to meet net zero?

Content type: Policy

Last updated: 30/10/2023

Author: ICE policy team

  • Laura Cunliffe-Hall, policy manager at Institution of Civil Engineers