In June 2019, following advice from the Committee on Climate Change, the UK Government set a legally binding target to achieve net zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050. Net zero means removing as many emissions as are produced. The UK was the first major economy to legislate for a net zero target, and between 1990 and 2018 the country had already made important progress – reducing emissions by more than 40%1. That progress was mostly achieved by decarbonizing the power sector, which involved little, if any public engagement. If the UK is going to achieve net zero by 2050, more far reaching reductions in carbon emissions are required. We take a look at why public engagement is going to be critical to the country achieving its target.

The need to reduce domestic emissions

A large chunk of the UK’s carbon emissions, around 22%, come from domestic households. That includes energy used for heating, lighting and appliances2. That is why the Climate Change Committee (CCC) has indicated that the majority (~62%) of emission reductions will require some form of societal and behavior change, including the adoption of low-carbon technologies and changes to the way we live our lives1.

In its December 2020 report on achieving net zero, The National Audit Office (NAO) also stressed the need for individuals to take action3. The independent public spending watchdog claimed that “Achieving net zero will depend on individuals adopting new technologies, changing their habits and lifestyles, or a combination of both. This includes, for example, purchasing zero-emission vehicles, such as electric vehicles, instead of cars that run on petrol or diesel; replacing domestic gas boilers with renewable alternatives, such as electric heat pumps; and consuming fewer meat and dairy products.”

Public awareness of the climate emergency

The good news is, public concern for climate change is at an all-time high, with the majority of people reporting that they have become more worried about the climate emergency in recent years. This change can mainly be attributed to the increased visibility of climate impacts around the globe and a growth in media and wider publicity around climate change.

In its quarterly statistical bulletin reporting on public attitudes to various issues connected to climate change, the latest of which was published in May 2021, The Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy revealed:

  • Eight out of ten people (80%) are either very concerned (33%) or fairly concerned (47%) about climate change.
  • Just under two-thirds (63%) of people believe climate change is already having an impact in the UK. 14% thought that it is not yet having an impact in the UK, but will do in their lifetime, and 15% said it will not have an impact in their lifetime, but will do for future generations in the UK.
  • 83% of people think people in other countries are already being affected by climate change4.

Whilst the level of public awareness and concern about climate change can only be viewed as a positive, the level of awareness of what net zero actually means and how individuals can help the UK reach its target are not as encouraging.

A jointly commissioned research paper on public dialogue about net zero that was published in March 2021 by BEIS and the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs revealed that:

  • Although there was a general awareness of the net zero target, there were mixed understandings of what it meant.
  • There was a feeling that it is such a large issue, not just affecting the UK, but the whole world, that it was unclear how individual actions would make much of a difference5.

The report states that there would be challenges for motivating the changes in individual behavior necessary to reduce carbon emissions, and that there was “very limited awareness of national or more localized policies/measures to reduce carbon emissions”.

These challenges are echoed by the Energy Saving Trust’s Energy and Sustainability Report. It reveals that of those who have heard about net zero, 88% agree it is essential for the UK to reach its net zero target. However, only 28% of people feel that they have a positive influence in helping the UK reach net zero6.

The disconnect between people’s concern about climate change and their understanding of what is required to achieve emissions reductions in the UK needs to be addressed. If the country is going to reach its net zero target, which requires individuals to change their behaviors, then it is clear that public engagement and awareness is critical to the journey.

The solution

Reducing household consumption/carbon emissions needs to focus on the electrification of homes across the UK. But replacing gas boilers with heat pumps or an air source system is expensive and not every electrification ‘solution’ is going to be applicable for every household. Appropriate solutions will depend on the property type, the household income, the demographic of the homeowner etc.

The onus is on energy and water companies to educate and advise their customers on the most appropriate solution for their home. But this requires them to have a deeper and clearer understanding of their customers. The solution lies in a data and behavioral science based customer engagement solution.

Not only will it capture and provide detailed information relating to individual households, it improves customer engagement, by nudging customers along their net zero journey by providing bespoke advice and tips towards reducing consumption, and offering products/services that are appropriate to their household. You can find out more about it in our blog – Boosting water and energy companies’ journeys to net zero.

If you’d like to find out more about our customer engagement solutions for water and energy utilities, then get in touch, we’d love to hear from you!

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