A Poverty Premium on the Journey to Net Zero

Posted in: Comment, News and Updates

I've been reading a new report [ Our Journey to Net Zero: understanding household and community participation in the UK’s transition to a greener future ] from the Institute for Community Studies and others, on the preparedness of UK households for the transition to Net Zero by 2050.

I was struck by this passage on page 7:

Without change to existing policy and strategies around transition, the evidence and data reviewed ... finds multiple existing inequalities will entrench or fluctuate and need to be addressed.  We already find that even working and 'once managing' families have struggled with the recent increases in food and fuel proces.  Families facing such struggles are less able to make low-carbon choices because they do not have the resources, financial or social security, or time, required for such behavioural change.

There is little evidence that current national government schemes focused on the poorest households work at all with support for upfront costs for investing in the majority of forms of household decarbonisation unattainable.  The evidence in this report shows if these households are left behind running old technologies and inefficient energy systems whilst other households switch; or if they cannot change to low-carbon diet, work, shopping and leisure options; they will likely face higher costs, deepening economic inequalities.  If they are unable to access the means to retrofit homes or to change from polluting vehicles to electric cars or green public transport, the same households may also incur penalties and tariffs.  These are just two parts of a poverty premium emerging around net zero, meaning households who cannot take part pay more and incur more volatile financial risk; whilst households who can share the cost of adaptation with government schemes or financing, avoid penalties and see reduced costs over time.

It's good to see this so clearly set out.

I was less certain about this passage:

The current political discourse around net zero risks downplaying how far this agenda has entered the minds and priorities of the UK public. In 2022, 77% of UK households reported that they were already trying to make some changes towards low carbon living and decarbonisation. However, 79% were unable to afford to make the changes that would have the most significant difference to decarbonisation or fairness outcomes (ONS Opinions and Lifestyle Survey, 2022)

Digging into the ONS data, it seems that the question asked was: To what extent have you made changes to your lifestyle to help tackle climate change?

The response options were:

  • I have made a lot of changes
  • I have made some changes
  • I have made no changes

10% of respondents said that they had made a lot of changes and 67% said that they had made some changes.

These are self-reported data, and it's not clear what "some" and "a lot" might mean.  If a bit of recycling counts (as it well might), then the data and conclusions cannot be worth much.  A pity.

Posted in: Comment, News and Updates


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  • I have long been amused with 'survey' questions that are so vague as to be more detrimental to acquiring knowledge about a phenomenon than remaining ignorant of it. Relying on self-reported responses without any qualitative backup is typical of those requiring quick fixes or to justify specific policies. And heaven forbid that people would give answers that outline their beliefs about themselves and not the phenomenon being studied. Worldviews are wonderful things that are often mentioned yet rarely understood when using assumptions involving policy making.