I was asked to give evidence to the House Of Lords' Committee on Climate Change and the Environment in March 2022. During the two-hour session I was struck by how eager the members were to listen to me and my fellow experts and sometimes surprised.
Peers were seeking to understand how behaviour change from the public can have a role in achieving the Government’s net-zero goals. Their questions led to a lively discussion about what works and what doesn’t. For me it was also a chance to press home the need for a public information campaign as I've called for on numerous occasions.
According to the Government’s own Climate Change Committee (CCC) nearly two thirds (62 per cent) of the Government’s proposals will require the public to alter their behaviour.
That’s a big shift. But the consensus from those of us giving evidence was that this is indeed possible because citizens wants to do something to tackle climate change. However action depends on access to impartial, factual information and swift, effective action from politicians and businesses.
As my fellow witness Trewin Restorick, Chief Executive of environment charity Hubbub, said: “We are operating in a sea of confusion among citizens. They have no idea what is going on.”
I argued: “The public is ready, we are pushing at an open door, and things such as insulation and the national retrofit scheme will not work unless the public know the benefits because there is a level of disruption and cost. We need that public information campaign with clear targets and number one has to be insulation because we are in a cost-of-living crisis.”
Committee Chair Baroness Parminter asked if businesses were facilitating changes to meet environmental goals because they were responding to consumer demand, had seen a marketing opportunity or were being persuaded by Government.
Professor Peattie pointed out spending on sustainable food and household products doubled between 2010 and 2020. He said “A large chunk of that is consumer led.”
Trewin Restorik, mentioned the “Attenborough effect” on the public using less plastic and companies having to catch up.
But he added that as a campaigner: “You feel like you are a brave soul fighting against the stream because government is not on your side, and when you look at the scale of the climate impact, you think, “Why are you not helping? Why are you not enabling society to see that we are on an unsustainable path?” I could list initiative after initiative that consecutive Governments have started; they have started to work, and then they have gone. I can see no desire in central government to truly make this happen.” This rang so true to me and no doubt anyone who has been working away and often disparing at decisions taken by Government ministers.
Then the actual Duke Of Wellington asked about the impact of shifts in behaviour on low-income families. He gave the example of reducing the number of flights people take.
He said: “It is the aspiration of many families, whatever their income level, to have a foreign holiday once a year. That is quite a natural thing that people want to do. Are you going to put a higher tax on aeroplane flights?”
Witness Professor Ken Peattie, an expert in marketing and strategy at Cardiff Business School, argued: “People do enjoy foreign holidays but we should think of it this way: if you had a friend who you knew was financially living beyond their means to a point where they were facing disaster, you would be asking them to cut back on their expenditure.”
I added that 50 per cent of people in the UK take no flights and 15 per cent take 70 per cent of all flights. If you fly first class to Australia you are emitting an average person’s annual carbon footprint. And the effects of rising temperatures impact lower income households more severely, for example if you live in a flood risk area with no insurance and no friends with big homes who can house you while you repair your own home.
I was delighted when Lord Lucas asked: “Could we subsidise Which? and One Home to give a really effective and easy source of information as to exactly how providers of products were responding?”
Obviously, as a not-for profit social enterprise, I would love government to part-fund One Home because a public information campaign will require significant resources to ensure the reach and duration are sufficient to enable the changes required in the next ten years throughout the UK.
Lord Browne of Ladyton asked about scale and suggested talking further with One Home because of how many people we reach.
I argued that we need to make going green desirable and normal. “A great example of that is the Greggs’ vegan sausage roll, if you give people the opportunity, they will buy it and make that shift. It is about making it normal, and the only way that can really be delivered is by the Government setting the framework, then businesses delivering it to the consumer.’
We covered so many subjects; the role of taxation, flooding, energy-efficient housing, working from home, the cost of oat milk, mortgages, wind farms, lobbying from vested interests, the circular economy, the failure of the green home grant, travel infrastructure and even the positioning of eco products in supermarkets.
Witnesses Paul Ellis, Chief Executive of the Ecology Building Society and Hugo Spowers, Founder of zero emission car company Riversimple, also made excellent points.
Lord Bishop of Oxford called our evidence: “Really helpful and inspiring” and Baroness Parminter summed up the meeting as “a fascinating session”.
I certainly came away thinking the committee was pleased to hear we felt the public is ready to act. It was a privilege to be invited to Parliament and I felt a real buzz after the session that change could happen. Let’s hope our collective evidence will help the Committee press home the importance of impartial information in changing public behaviour to reach net zero emissions.
You can watch the session here and I hope that you enjoy it as much as I did taking part: https://www.parliamentlive.tv/Event/Index/e1ea19b3-5ef4-4034-a586-f9f06e92349a