The Role of Behaviour Change in Delivering Net Zero

Behaviour change is unavoidably a much more important part of the response to climate change than has been the case to date.

Almost all of our decarbonisation in the last decade has been achieved by reducing emissions from our power sector – which has required no more from consumers than acquiescence in slightly higher electricity costs. A much greater proportion of changes in the next 15 years will be delivered by behaviour change than in the last 15 years.


But while our targets cannot be achieved without behaviour change, the number of behaviour changes that really matter is relatively limited. It is not the case that net zero requires total transformation in all aspects of our lives. There is a relatively small number of key behaviour changes that will deliver most of the necessary emission reductions, says a comprehensive analysis and report by the Tony Blair Institute for Global Change. It's a fascinating report and well worth reading if you would like an in-depth understanding of this vital subject.


In the meantime, here's a swift summary of its conclusions on how we can all help to hit net-zero in the UK by 2050. But, if you live elsewhere in the world, the report's conclusions are going to be broadly similar for your lifestyle adjustments too.


The good news is that the necessary behaviour changes the climate will ask of us are, in fact, pretty manageable. The most demanding will probably be the switch to battery-powered cars (60 percent of vehicles by 2035). Otherwise, the number of miles per driver will need to reduce by 4 percent; plane kilometres per person down by 6 percent; meat and dairy consumption down by 20 percent.


Arguably, says The Guardian, this is the time to start new conversations – is net zero, in this time frame, ambitious enough? Can the disproportionate carbon usage of the affluent somehow be reflected in redistributive policy, so everyone has an allocation of plane miles and those who can’t afford to use theirs can sell them instead? Would it make sense to subsidise meat and dairy alternatives in the same way renewables were initially supported?


Government will certainly need to step in to incentivise (and subsidise) the cost of switching to low-carbon heating, energy efficiency and electric vehicles, but the government's biggest job is to communicate the simple realities of what we need to do as individuals to achieve the nation's net-zero targets. We don't need to give up flying, we don't need to become vegans, we don't need to cycle everywhere - it's just some relatively easy lifestyle tweaks we need to make.

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