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How do we build a positive public discourse around net zero across the political spectrum?

By Adam Corner on May 2, 2019

A pub by the canal in Birmigham

What does net zero mean, and are the UK public ready for it?

In a few short weeks, UK climate politics has undergone what appears to be an incredible process of transformation. The courageous moral leadership of Greta Thunberg and the School Strike movement, and the wildly successful civil disobedience of the Extinction Rebellion protests have triggered a spectacle many climate campaigners thought they might never see: politicians from across the political spectrum scrambling to be the next in line to declare a ‘climate emergency’.

But declarations of climate emergencies are meaningless without the policies to back them up. So it is with impeccable timing that the Committee on Climate Climate (the well-regarded and independent body of experts that provide critical guidance to the government as it makes progress through the carbon budgets contained in the UK Climate Change Act) releases its latest report, Net Zero – the UK’s contribution to stopping global warming.

The new report spells out the actions the UK needs to take to reach net zero emissions by 2050 – that is, when the UK no longer contributes to climate change. It is difficult to imagine a more fortuitous time for such a bold statement of ambition to be landing in the boxes of the country’s politicians and journalists: it seems everyone is talking about climate change.

But the burning question is, now that we have the country’s attention, how do we capitalise on this long awaited opportunity? More specifically, how do we broaden and sustain engagement with the changes that must now be made to our energy systems and economy? What does net zero mean, and are the UK public ready for it?

And why does it matter what the public makes of net zero? Because from this point onwards, cuts to carbon emissions will simply not be possible without public participation in lifestyle changes, and proactive support for low-carbon policies and regulations.

That is the question our latest Climate Outreach report seeks to answer, through an analysis of two discussion groups held with members of the public with centre-right political values in 2018. Using our ‘narrative workshop’ methodology, the report provides recommendations on the best ways to connect the concept of net zero with public audiences across the political spectrum.

From the way we travel, to the food we eat, and the way we heat our homes, public apathy or resistance is likely to be encountered if carefully considered communications are not in place. Getting public buy-in will mean identifying the right messages, messengers and campaign approaches which speak to values held across the political spectrum, and not just the usual suspects.

Download the report to read the key findings and recommendations for campaigners looking to take the net zero messages to the masses, harnessing the energy of the School Strike and Extinction Rebellion campaigns.

By Dr Adam Corner

Adam led Climate Outreach’s research work for almost 10 years, joining when the organisation will still young. He stepped down in early 2021 to start a new adventure in freelance work, which includes a role as a Climate Outreach Associate.  He helped grow the Research team and build long standing relationships with academic partners, including the CAST centre (Climate Change & Social Transformations).

Before that, Adam worked in the Understanding Risk research group at Cardiff University, researching public attitudes towards climate change. An accomplished and widely-published author, Adam wrote Talking Climate: From Research to Practice in Public Engagement, with Jamie Clarke, and his research and writing has appeared in academic journals, reports and briefings, and international media commentary. Adam also writes about music – including the increasing connections between music and climate change – for UK media, and can occasionally be found lurking behind the decks at pubs and parties in Bristol.

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