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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

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

A pub by the canal in Birmigham

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 Corner is a writer and independent researcher who specialises in climate change communication and climate/culture collaborations. Adam worked with Climate Outreach between 2010-2021, helping to build the research team, developing Climate Visuals and Britain Talks Climate, and establishing the centre for Climate Change and Social Transformations (CAST). Adam has published widely on public engagement with climate change, from academic journals and reports for NGOs to media commentary (including for the Guardian and New Scientist). Currently Adam’s work is split between strategic climate communication projects (like the Local Storytelling Exchange), writing and contributing to reports, and developing the climate communication evidence base into music and cultural spaces.

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