The UK will fail to meet its net zero and environment targets unless there is a significant increase in efforts to bring about behaviour change, according to a major new report.
The publication by the House of Lords’ Environment and Climate Change Committee – In our hands: behaviour change for climate and environmental goals – is the result of an inquiry that heard from 146 organisations from across the UK and further afield.
Among the contributors was
Alison Anderson, Professor of Sociology at the University of Plymouth and a world-leading expert on science communication and behaviour change measures to address the global climate emergency.
She provided written evidence to the inquiry, in which she highlighted a number of areas she felt needed addressing in order for the UK Government’s climate and net-zero strategies to have their desired impact.
They focused mostly on young people’s awareness of climate change, with Professor Anderson saying they needed a broad climate education that is integrated within all subject areas.
At the moment, she said, young people are mostly finding information about climate change and the environment outside of the formal education system, particularly from social media platforms such as TikTok and Instagram.
She also called for a change in the way young people were referred to when it comes to climate change, with present efforts leaving them feeling that narratives frame them as uninformed about the issues, while at the same time placing responsibility on them for tackling climate change.
Instead, she suggested the narrative of Government projects relating to youth engagement with climate change should be sensitised to the specific barriers young people face.
Following the report’s publication, Professor Anderson said:
“The report makes clear that behaviour change is critical to tackling climate change and meeting net zero targets. The public want to know how they can play their part but the Government need to provide clear leadership and do more to support them. A combination of policy levers and a joined up, systemic approach, is necessary. As part of this, engaging young people, our future leaders, is vital. In the education realm, sustainability needs to be embedded across the curriculum.”
Professor Alison Anderson
In its report, the Committee identified that one third of the greenhouse gas emissions reductions up to 2035 require decisions by individuals and households to adopt low carbon technologies and choose low-carbon products and services, as well as reduce carbon-intensive consumption.
It found that while the Government has introduced some policies to help people adopt new technologies, like electric cars, that focus has not been replicated in other areas.
The committee concluded there has been too great a reliance on as yet undeveloped technologies to get the UK to net-zero and a reluctance to help people cut carbon-intensive consumption.
Baroness Parminter, Chair of the Environment and Climate Change Committee said:
“After a summer of record temperatures, fires and hose pipe bans, it has never been more apparent that the twin crises of climate change and nature loss demand an immediate and sustained response. People power is critical to reach our environmental goals, but unless we are encouraged and enabled to change behaviours in how we travel, what we eat and buy and how we heat our homes, we won’t meet those targets.
"People want to know how to play their part in tackling climate change and environmental damage, but the current approach is inadequate in the face of the urgent scale of the environmental challenge.”
Read more about Professor Anderson's work to bring about behaviour change
News of our work on climate change
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- Tropical forests may be approaching a critical high-temperature threshold 23 August 2023
- Fossilised beaches help scientists understand impacts of past global warming 5 July 2023
- Seven in 10 pupils want an education that helps them tackle the climate crisis 5 June 2023
Providing evidence to support policy-making processes
The University of Plymouth has a prestigious record of engaging with and influencing policy, from legislation on microplastics, to innovation in offshore renewable energy to the health of coastal communities. We work with local, regional, national and international partners across a range of complex policy issues including soil erosion, anti-microbial resistance and digital interventions for Parkinsons’ sufferers.