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UK risks missing net zero goal without substantial behavioural changes

Jordan O'Brien

Jordan O'Brien

Contributing Editor
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Carbon Footprint

The UK is at risk of missing its legally-binding net zero goal by 2050 unless substantial behavioural changes are made, according to a new report. 

It is already well established that hitting the net zero target of 2050 will require a lot of work on the part of businesses and consumers all across the UK, but the Energy Research Partnership has found that the current social environment is not conducive to the behaviour change needed for net zero

Thanks to the overwhelming support from the general public, one could assume it would be easy to make the changes necessary for a reduction in carbon emissions. However, the report discovered that despite feelings of initial guilt, most people weren’t willing to change long-term behaviours. That puts our net zero goal at risk. 

Take eating, for example. What we currently eat represents 17% of an average household’s carbon footprint, but it’s hard to ask consumers to assess every decision they make based on the impact it will make on the environment. Imagine having to think about how much carbon you will emit every time you plug in an EV or heat a home, it’s unreasonable to expect. 

That’s why the Energy Research Partnership is encouraging the Government to take a more active role in affecting real behavioural change. It says that this can be done in a myriad of ways. 

One of the biggest motivators for consumers and businesses to change their behaviour could come from central Government. The report commented how a mix of regulation, incentives, nudges and penalties could motivate customers and industry towards net zero. That is an argument we have made here at Electrical Review in regards to the recent reduction in the plug-in car grant.

Incentives shouldn’t just go to consumers, however, argues the Energy Research Partnership. It believes the Government should come up with an innovation fund that will help fund research in technologies that would either emit lower carbon or no carbon. 

It’s not just about using technology to reduce our emissions, but also giving consumers and businesses better access to data to understand their total carbon footprint. One way this can be achieved is through smarter technology in homes and businesses. The report suggests improving the current smart meters that are being rolled out to ensure that a consumer can fully understand their carbon impact. 

The Energy Research Partnership also wants to make it easier for indirect CO2 emissions (such as water use, food choices, shopping habits) to be monitored to help consumers see and understand their entire carbon footprint. 

Can the UK still achieve its net zero goal? 

While it’s still possible for the UK to achieve its net zero goal, there is a lot of work that consumers and businesses need to do. The problem is that current societal norms and trends are making the work harder, such as the popularity of SUVs or excessive calorie intake. 

Thankfully, there is a way that industry and Government can push that behavioural change faster. An increase in renewable energy on the grid is one such way that can reduce everyone’s carbon footprint, while the Government punishing more polluting vehicles will also help nudge people in the right direction.

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