Achieving Net Zero Contents

2Wider engagement

Engaging with the general public

18.Achieving net zero will depend on people changing their habits and lifestyles, adopting new technologies, and in some cases big personal investments. For example, buying zero-emission vehicles, such as electric vehicles, instead of cars that run on petrol or diesel; changing the way they heat their homes by replacing domestic gas boilers with renewable alternatives, such as electric heat pumps; and lifestyle changes such as consuming fewer meat and dairy products. The Climate Change Committee (CCC) estimated in 2019 that 62% of the remaining emissions reductions will happen either through individual choices and behaviours, some of which will require the development of new technologies. But it also found that there was a disconnect between people’s concern about climate change and their understanding of what is required to achieve emissions reductions in the UK.32

19.We asked the Department what it was doing to ensure the step change needed by members of the public to achieve net zero and how it was communicating to people about the decisions or changes they needed to make and when. The Department told us that so far, a lot of the changes to reduce emissions reductions have not required major behavioural change, but many of those that will be needed in the future will do. It explained that, where possible, it would look for solutions that did not require “excessively drastic behaviour change” which was why initiatives such as electric vehicles were so important. In April 2020, the Department established a behaviour change and public engagement team for net zero to begin designing a public engagement strategy and share good practice across government. The Department accepted, however, that it was not yet providing an integrated picture of public engagement and that there was more work it needed to do to address this gap in 2021.33 It told us that it would be important to ensure that its public engagement strategy was sufficiently broad to allow the public to understand the wider context of its communications and messages. For example, it explained that it would be important to enable people to understand the continuing importance in the short term of high-emitting industries, such as coal, oil and gas, and their role in employment and the resilience of the energy system.34

20.Government investment in new technologies, such as carbon capture and storage, could benefit particular regions of the UK and support the government’s levelling up agenda, which aims to create opportunity for everyone in all regions and address disparities in economic and social outcomes.35 We asked the Department about ensuring the transition to a net zero economy was done in a just way, in particular the planned skills and training support for people working in sectors expected to decline or change significantly as part of the move to net zero, so that they were prepared for the change. We specifically asked about people who will have to move into different kinds of employment, such as car manufacturing moving to predominantly electric vehicles or people moving from the oil and gas sectors into solar power. The Department confirmed that developing these skills would be very important, but told us that while this was a big area of focus, there was time before developing sectors such as carbon capture will be employing people at scale. It noted that, as one of the important opportunities for new job creation, it would be important to ensure that plans for net zero provided job in the right locations and weren’t only concentrated in the south-east. It also recognised that it would need to ensure that its plans were integrated into the Department for Education’s work on skills and explained it was working with the Department for Education to identify the people and skills the industries affected would need.36

Engaging with local authorities

21.Local authorities have a key role to play in achieving net zero. They have significant scope to influence emissions in their area, for example, by leading decarbonisation of sectors such as housing and transport. These represent a substantial proportion of UK emissions, and where the emissions reduction challenge will vary by location. Local authorities can also influence local businesses and residents to take climate action themselves. The NAO found that government’s co-ordination arrangements for net zero only extended to central government departments.37 We received written evidence from the Local Government Association (LGA), which told us that the Government needed to outline national and local government responsibilities and commit to working with local government bodies to deliver net zero. It also told us that there needed to be an engagement process between central and local government to support councils to develop local net zero delivery plans and invest in green solutions.38 The Department agreed that local authorities were very important partners in delivering decarbonisation schemes such as the green homes grant and the local authority delivery scheme. It also recognised that local authorities had a lot of the planning capabilities and statutory duties which would be very important for example, when thinking about investment in heat networks. It accepted that it would be increasingly important to engage with local authorities.39

22.In written evidence, the LGA told us that there was a long-term funding gap in government’s ambitions to decarbonise housing. In February 2020, the LGA’s Climate Change Survey 2020 found that nine out of 10 councils had declared a climate emergency and 80% had set a carbon neutral target.40 But the survey found that local authorities faced numerous barriers to tackling climate change. Ninety-six per cent of respondents reported that funding was a barrier to their local authority tackling climate change, and 93% that legislation or regulation was a barrier. Lack of workforce capacity or a lack of skills was also a cause for concern, with 88% and 78% of local authorities in the survey respectively reporting this as a barrier to tackling climate change. Respondents who noted legislation or regulation as a barrier highlighted a range of issues including building regulations not being environmentally rigorous and that the National Planning Policy Framework or planning regulations were insufficiently ambitious.41

23.The Department acknowledged that it needed to consider place-related aspects to achieving net zero and how local authorities could be involved in co-ordinating the changes needed in areas such as transport and energy.42 The Department told the National Audit Office that it intended to engage with local authorities about their role as part of the creation of the net zero strategy.43 During our evidence session, the Department further committed to actively engaging with local authorities on how sector strategies will be rolled out, as the strategies were published. The Department noted that it had provided toolkits to raise the capability and capacity within local authorities and has local energy hubs to enable engagement with them. These hubs aimed to help local authorities to develop plans to attract investment and fund the development and sharing of best practice between local authorities.44

32 Q 34, C&AG’s Report paras 8, 3.23, Figure 12

33 Q 34; C&AG’s Report, para 8

34 Qq 36-37

35 C&AG’s Report, paras 1.9

36 Qq 52-53, 65-67

37 C&AG’s Report, para 2.19-2.21

38 Local Government Association submission para 4

39 Q 39

40 Q 43; Local Government Association submission para 7

41 Local Government Association submission para 7; Local Government Association, Climate Change Survey, Research report, February 2020 pages 2, 35

42 Qq 40-41

43 C&AG’s Report, paras 11, 2.22

44 Qq 39, 44; C&AG’s Report, para 2.22

Published: 5 March 2021 Site information    Accessibility statement