Behaviour Change and Net Zero

Posted in: Comment, Talks and Presentations

I attended the I-SEE Sustainable Energy & the Environment Webinar: Behaviour change for net zero, last Tuesday.  It was given by Professor Lorraine Whitmarsh of the University of Bath.

Here's Lorraine's introduction:

In this talk, I will argue that most of the measures required to reach our climate change targets require at least some degree of behaviour change. And that more broadly, social transformation is required to reach ’net zero’ carbon targets in the coming years. In order to achieve this, we need public engagement and participation in decision-making about what a low-carbon future looks like, and how to reach it. We also need a wide range of measures to change people’s behaviour at home, work and elsewhere. I will present findings from polls and citizens assemblies on public concern about climate change, and support for net zero policies; and from behavioural science research on how to effectively change behaviour to cut emissions.

It was a lively, entertaining and informative talk and anyone attending must have come away with a good basic grounding in the comparative advantage and difficulty of different ways of helping people make changes leading to a low(er) carbon life.

There were lots of questions at the end. Lorraine was asked what she thought was the best single thing that government might do to move things along.  She said – rightly in my view – house insulation, noting the failure of several schemes over the last 25 years or so meaning that the nation's oldest housing stock remains comparatively cold and expensive to heat.   Only 2,900 homes have benefited from the Great British Insulation Scheme, out of a target of 300,000.  This is a disgrace.  The Times has details on how long insulation will take at the current rate.  But loft insulation is never going to be as sexy as a gleaming new heat pump.

I asked this:

In 2022 the ONS reported that 77% of UK households said that they were already trying to make some changes towards low carbon living. However, 79% of these said that they were unable to afford to make the changes that would have the most impact.  How can the poorest in society best be helped to avoid being left behind in the journey to net zero?

Lorraine's response was to agree with the premise of the question – citing BEVs and heat pumps – and then pointing to financial savings from doing some things – eg, not buying new stuff, turning thermostats down.  She also looked to companies and government reducing prices.

All valid points, but she did not respond to my main 'left behind' point: "How can the poorest in society best be helped to avoid being left behind in the journey to net zero?"

Take house insulation, there is a real possibility that the poorer you are the less you will spend on insulating your home – or to be able even to try to do this – and, as building standards rise in new builds, the poorest will be left living in cold and draughty buildings that are increasingly expensive to heat.

Spending some of the fabled £28bn on fixing this might be a good idea.  If, that is, it's possible to fix it.

Posted in: Comment, Talks and Presentations


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