Last month Britain’s Climate Assembly delivered its report, after a Covid-interrupted series of discussion weekends. The full report contains a series of potential policies across several different sectors. These policies are prefaced by a set of principles.
These are the principles that should guide the country’s approach to net zero carbon, and they’re useful because they’re from ordinary citizens. It’s not a political party with an ideological bias towards one sort of solution or another. It’s not activists or environmentalists, or business groups, each with their own interests. Plenty of people have had their say on what needs to be done to decarbonise the economy, but not ordinary voters. And when asked, these are some of the things they thought the country should keep in mind on the way to net zero:
1. First in the list, because it got the most votes from participants, is ‘informing and educating everyone (the public, industry, individuals and government)’. It’s hard to argue with that one. Net zero will need broad support across society, and a shared understanding of what it means.
2. Fairness is the second priority, ensuring that decarbonisation considers the most vulnerable, and shares the burden and the rewards across the regions. Worth noting that this is fairness ‘within the UK’. Fairness for the most vulnerable globally was a separate question, and came in 19th.
3. At three, ‘clear, proactive, accountable and consistent’ leadership from government. This is a tricky one, because it’s almost the opposite of the Johnson government, which tends to be secretive, unprepared, unaccountable and inconsistent. On climate change, the mixed messages and policy reversals go back a lot further than that. It’s hard to see right now where that kind of leadership would come from.
4. ‘Protecting and restoring the natural world’ is next, and that’s more comfortable ground for a Conservative government. It might not happen, but there’s room to work here. See Boris Johnson’s pledge last week.
5. At five we have ‘Ensuring solutions are future-proofed and sustainable for the future’, which is sensible and ought to be a given.
6. ‘A joined-up approach across the system and all levels of society’ is next, and shows a desire for collaborative working. The importance of cross-party cooperation is part of that, something that traditionally Britain is terrible at. Climate change has been an exception to that rule, with broad support for the Climate Change Act in 2009, and the disagreements along partisan lines came later. It will be interesting to see if that sense of cross-bench cooperation can be recovered for net zero – or if there is any appetite among politicians for trying. There is certainly an appetite for cooperation among the general public.
7. Long-term planning and a phased transition’ shows the importance to the assembly of planning out where we’re going to and working towards it in stages. 2050 is a long way off, so we need proper intermediate targets and clear steps along the way to measure progress.
8. Good to see this one word principle among the top ten: ‘urgency’.
9. ‘Support for sustainable growth’ is the governmment’s default position, and is echoed by the assembly here. Of course, as long as it remains tied to growth in energy and materials, there is no such thing as sustainable growth, so it’s asking the impossible again. But I’m not surprised it features. Growth is, after all, the primary way that we have chosen to measure progress.
That’s nine, and I’m tempted to add another from the full list of 25. But these top nine are the ones that were voted for by over a third of participants, so they are the main priorities.