In June 2019, the United Kingdom became the first major economy to set itself a legally-binding target to reduce greenhouse gas emissions to net zero by 2050. According to the Committee on Climate Change, reaching this target would allow the UK to adhere to the commitments it has made as a part of the 2016 Paris Agreement to keep global warming under 2°C.
With the Government having adopted an additional target of slashing emissions by 78% by 2035 to bring the UK three-quarters of the way to ‘net zero,’ the latest research conducted by Redfield & Wilton Strategies looks at what Britons currently think about this overall target and how confident they are in the UK’s ability to achieve it.
With 89% of Britons saying they are at least somewhat aware of the measures the current UK Government is taking to address climate change, 66% of those polled think they understand the meaning of the UK’s ‘net zero’ target. 34% conversely say they do not understand it.
Once informed that ‘net zero’ means that the amount of carbon dioxide the United Kingdom pollutes into the atmosphere from coal, oil, gas, and other sources would either be zero or fully compensated by other measures that capture carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, views regarding the UK’s ability to achieve this target are largely negative. More than half (53%) of Britons polled do not have confidence in the ability of the UK to reach ‘net zero’ carbon emissions by 2050, while 29% do have confidence. A notable 18% don’t know.
Younger age appears to correlate to increased optimism in the UK’s ability to achieve ‘net zero’ by 2050. While only 23% of 55-to-64-year-olds and 22% of those aged 65 and above have confidence in the UK’s ability to reach this target, 43% of 18-to-24-year-olds do.
Unlike age, political affiliation appears to play no significant role in influencing Britons’ confidence in the ability of the UK to achieve ‘net zero,’ as 30% of both 2019 Conservative and 2019 Labour voters have confidence and 52% and 54% of these respective demographics do not.
Regardless of whether they have confidence in the UK’s ability to reach ‘net zero’ by 2050, nearly half (49%) of the British public thinks that if the UK were to achieve this goal, it would make a difference in preventing climate change. At the same time, a significant proportion of 30% thinks reaching ‘net zero’ would not make a difference in preventing climate change, and 21% don’t know.
Again, optimism is more widespread among younger Britons. Whereas 64% of 18-to-24-year-olds think reaching ‘net zero’ would make a difference in preventing climate change, 44% of 55-to-64-year-olds and 45% of those aged 65 and above share this view.
Despite some doubts, however, two-thirds (64%) of Britons—in similar proportions across all age groups—think that the UK should pursue ‘net zero,’ even if it is not clear how effective it will be in preventing climate change. A much smaller proportion of 19% think the UK should not pursue ‘net zero’ under these circumstances, and 16% are unsure.
Though views in favour of the UK’s ‘net zero’ target are clearly majoritarian, a plurality of 42% would nevertheless support the United Kingdom holding a referendum on whether the country should pursue ‘net zero’—something 25% would conversely oppose.
Support for such a hypothetical referendum is particularly pronounced among 18-to-24-year-olds (60%). Though 2019 Labour voters, at 46%, are somewhat more likely to support the idea of a referendum on the UK’s ‘net zero’ target than 2019 Conservative voters, a plurality (39%) of this latter group nevertheless also expresses their support.
Though support for ‘net zero’ is high overall, many Britons harbour doubts regarding the UK’s ability to achieve this target. To boost the public’s confidence and bring on board those who are still sceptical regarding the value of ‘net zero,’ the Government would likely benefit from announcing more specific measures that demonstrate how the UK will work towards its emission reduction goals. Such a concrete roadmap may help convince voters that ‘net zero’ is more than an abstract target that sounds good in theory but is impossible to achieve in practice.