Public wants radical climate action

The UK’s first citizens’ assembly has now established beyond doubt that the public want radical action to prevent climate breakdown.

The majority of us feel prioritising net-zero policy is not only important but achievable too.

Taxes that increase as people fly further and more often should be introduced to help cut carbon, the UK’s first citizens’ assembly on climate change has recommended.

The final report from Climate Assembly UK also supports a ban on sales of new gas boilers and new petrol, diesel and hybrid cars by 2030-2035 to help Britain meet its legal goal to cut emissions to “net zero” by mid-century.

The recommendations for tackling climate change from the citizens’ assembly also include voluntary reductions in meat and dairy from diets, and planting and managing forests to help soak up excess carbon emissions.

Informed

The group of more than 100 people from across the UK also said the shift to net zero must be fair to people, and allow for freedom and choice where possible for individuals and local areas.

They called for widespread education and information, government leadership, and cross-party consensus on the issue.

Climate Assembly UK was commissioned by six parliamentary select committees and asked to examine how the country can meet its legal target to cut greenhouse gases to zero overall by mid-century.

The group, who are representative of the UK population including in their views on climate change, met to learn about, discuss and make informed decisions on options for meeting the net-zero goal.

The assembly was forced to move online to complete its work because of the pandemic, and at its final session participants discussed the impact of the coronavirus outbreak and lockdown on the net-zero target.

Technology

An interim report showed strong support for the idea that steps taken by the Government to help the economy recover should be designed to help drive down greenhouse gas emissions.

Now the final report reveals the conclusions the assembly has come to on achieving the net-zero target in a number of areas: travel on land, travel by air, in the home, what we eat and how we use land, what we buy, electricity sources, and removing greenhouse gases from the atmosphere.

Four-fifths of assembly members strongly agreed or agreed that taxes which increase as people fly more often and as they fly further should be part of how the UK gets to net zero.

The report also shows support for a shift to low-carbon cars, improved public transport, using education to help people reduce meat and dairy, and planting forests.

In homes, they backed a ban on new gas boilers by 2030 or 2035 but said local areas should be able to choose what kind of clean heating technology – such as hydrogen heating, heat pumps and heat networks – worked for them.

Trees

Efforts to retrofit homes with insulation and technology to cut emissions must minimise disruption and provide financial support and choice for people, they said.

The assembly also backed measures including emissions labelling on food and drink, payments for farmers to use land to absorb carbon, and renewables such as offshore wind.

Assembly Member Sue, 56, from Bath, said: “Even in a year like this, with the country and economy still reeling from the coronavirus pandemic, it’s clear that the majority of us feel prioritising net-zero policy is not only important but achievable too.

“Our report takes into account the wide range of views in the UK and represents a realistic and fair path to net zero.”

The UK has a legal target to cut greenhouse gases to net zero by 2050, with steep cuts in pollution and any remaining emissions “offset” by measures that remove them from the atmosphere, such as planting trees.

Exemplar

Luke Murphy is head of the progressive think tank IPPR's environmental justice commission and also a member of the advisory panel to the Climate Assembly. 

He said: "This is an important contribution to the debate on how the UK should reach net zero, making more than 50 recommendations across a whole range of policy areas from transport to farming.

"It is vital that the government examine them and take them forward.

"As well as a raft of recommendations, the Assembly members' have called for strong leadership from national government, for the ability of local areas to develop plans that best suit their needs and crucially, to put fairness at the very heart of the transition.

"The Climate Assembly UK has been an exemplar of how citizens from across the country can come together, debate the huge issues facing us and develop well thought out solutions.

"It is a process that deserves to be far more widely used within policymaking, which why it is at the heart of IPPR's Environmental Justice Commission."

Talks

Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy Select Committee chairman Darren Jones said: “This is an extremely important contribution to the debate on how the UK reaches our net-zero target and I hope it gives impetus to policy-makers to take bold action to reduce our emissions.

“The range of voices within these pages reflect our population.”

A government spokesperson said: “Climate change is a challenge affecting us all and so we must hear diverse voices on this crucial matter.

“We share the public’s passion for an inclusive approach to tackling climate change and will study the Citizen Assembly’s report carefully as we push for greater climate action both at home and abroad ahead of crucial COP26 talks next year.”

This Author

Emily Beament is the PA environment correspondent. Brendan Montague is editor of The Ecologist

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