What do people really think about the UK’s ambition to become ‘net zero’?

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Date Published

08/10/2021

Reading time

4 mins read

Author

Chris Cartwright

The UK Government has pledged that the country will become net-zero by 2050. Achieving this will require both huge changes to our energy system and innovative low carbon solutions supported by consumers.

We conducted our own research with 3,004 UK adults to discover what they think about the UK’s net zero goal.

Our research found that three quarters (75%) of people have heard about the UK Government’s pledge to be net zero. However only 18% of respondents are convinced that this target is achievable.This public scepticism is likely to be fuelled by a lack of understanding. Four in five say they are at least aware of the term ‘net zero’ but only 57% of respondents understand what that means.

Interestingly, out of the respondents to our survey, male understanding of the term was much higher at 72% in comparison to 42% of female respondents. In terms of completely understanding ‘net zero’ the results were low: less than a fifth of people in the Gen Z demographic (18-23 year olds) fully understand the paired term and only 17% say they wish they knew more about it. In fact, more Gen Z respondents (21%) have not heard of ‘net zero’ and say they don’t understand it.

Concerned about climate change

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Willing to make the change

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However, millennials and Gen Zs aren’t passive; these two generations consistently vocalise their concerns around our societal impact and want businesses and individuals to act in a positive way. Our research found that the sentiment from Gen Z on the topic is higher with 43% saying that they’re worried about climate change. Over two fifths in the Gen Z demographic believe that climate change is not being taken seriously enough, compared with only 31% of baby boomers and 29% of over 75s.

Less than half (40%) of the respondents think that the target to reach net zero by 2050 is urgent and needs to be tackled immediately and the sentiment was nearly identical across the different generations.

Overall, people believe that national governments and politicians (51%) and big businesses (46%) are most responsible for finding solutions to climate change. Nearly half of Gen Z respondents think that big businesses are more responsible than national governments and politicians, whereas the other generations believe national governments and politicians are more accountable.

In general, consumers want further government intervention to help achieve net zero - nearly three fifths would be encouraged to live a greener lifestyle if they received incentives from the Government or a company. One in three people say that no particular initiative encouraged them to make green changes, they did so on their own accord. It’s clear, therefore, that there’s an opportunity to engage people to reach the Government’s goal, especially as it’s recognised that lifestyle efforts have a crucial role to play: nearly nine in ten respondents agreed that individuals should make at least a little change in their personal lives. The majority of the respondents believe that people will need to undertake a number of changes in their behaviour to help achieve net zero.

Nearly half of the respondents across all the generations believe that individuals should make some changes in their lifestyle in an effort to meet net zero targets. Interestingly, although millennials and Gen Z have driven social change significantly in the last few years, less than a fifth (19%) of Gen Z think that individuals should make a large change in their personal lives. One of the most popular ways in which respondents have tried to reduce their carbon footprint is by reducing their energy usage, seven in ten people have tried to implement this change.

Already made lifestyle changes

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Who is swapping to greener energy tariffs

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Over eight in ten (84%) of respondents do not generate any of their own energy or power in their households. When people do take this step, solar panels are the most popular option.15% of millennials generate their own power at home through solar panels and 13% of Gen Z do the same. Only 8% of Gen X, baby boomers and 75+ generate their own energy/power through solar panels.

Gen Z are the born-digital generation, and this makes them more willing to share personal data with utilities companies so that they can make changes. Interestingly, less than a fifth (14%) have already granted this consent even though more than half (51%) said that they are willing to do so. The older generations (Gen X and baby boomers) responded that they’re also willing to share their data.

Overall, around half of respondents said they viewed reducing a household’s carbon emissions as everyone’s responsibility. Eight in ten believe planting more trees will be impactful in reducing carbon emissions. Similarly, 78% think that recycling will have a bearing on reaching carbon neutrality. These views were similar across the different demographic groups.However, nearly 10% more millennials believe that swapping to greener energy tariffs has a significant impact. And older generations (baby boomers and 75+) were less likely to believe that eating less meat can help the environment (13%) compared with nearly three times more Gen Z (30%) believing that it has an impact. This is not surprising as there has an increase in veganism amongst the younger generations due to concerns about the environment and animal welfare.

It’s heartening to see that people do generally want to reduce their carbon impact and support the Government’s net-zero ambition. However, our research shows that there is a long way to go to help people understand what changes they can make and how. There is scepticism and many people are waiting for the Government and businesses to lead the way. This lack of proactive action could have disastrous consequences.

At Capita, we’re committed to reorientating our business towards net zero and as part of our drive to be a purpose-led, responsible business, and are well under way in defining our pathway towards becoming net zero. Our approach to climate change focuses on decarbonising our operations and tackling climate change with our clients and partners.

In 2021, we’ll be developing our ambition and financial plan to achieve net zero as soon as possible, aligning our pathway to the forthcoming Science Based Targets initiative (SBTi) global standard for corporate net-zero targets. Alongside this, we are strengthening our assessment of climate risk against our corporate strategy and financial position – building plans and an understanding of the costs to manage and mitigate the risks.

Research was undertaken between 8th - 15th June 2021 by Opinium Research. Sample: 3,004 UK adults.

Find out more, download 'The road to net zero' report

Written by

Chris Cartwright

Chris Cartwright

Critical Infrastructure Market leader

Chris is a Senior Executive with over 20 years’ experience in Energy/ Utilities/ Infrastructure and Consulting. Chris is currently a Market Sector Leader and Head of Critical Infrastructure at Capita Consulting. Chris is a Chartered Engineer and Fellow with the Institution of Engineering and Technology and is currently the chair of the Digital Sector Executive panel.

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