Net-zero Emissions: Behaviour Change Debate

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Department: Cabinet Office

Net-zero Emissions: Behaviour Change

Baroness Parminter Excerpts
Thursday 20th October 2022

(1 year, 7 months ago)

Lords Chamber
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Baroness Parminter Portrait Baroness Parminter (LD)
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My Lords, it is always a pleasure to follow the noble Lord, Lord Lilley. We have listened carefully to him throughout our proceedings. I find that, in politics, it is not worth always talking to people you agree with. In our committee, we listened carefully and based our conclusions on the evidence. That is the role of a Select Committee in the House of Lords. The evidence is clear. The noble Lord was in a minority: he was the only member of the committee who disagreed with it. We stand by it.

I thank the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Oxford for calling this important debate on a day when, sadly, the focus will be much more on the evidence of an incompetent Government. In the area of behaviour change, it is quite clear what a competent Government would be doing. First, they would be setting targets for net zero and willing the policies to deliver that. This Government have rightly set targets for net zero, but the evidence is that they will not be reached without members of the public changing their behaviour, both in adopting new technologies and in reducing their carbon consumption. Our report clearly showed that the Government have failed in that second task of willing policies.

Secondly, if they wanted to address behaviour change, a competent Government would be leading. They would be helping the public to make the choices they want. Now, she is not going to be doing any leading any more but, at her conference only last week, the then Prime Minister said:

“I’m not going to tell you what to do or what to think or how to live your life.”

She is not going to be doing that any more, but that is entirely consistent with the mantra of the Government’s net-zero strategy, where they say that they will go only

“with the grain of consumer choice.”

That is not leadership.

Leadership is about understanding that the public care passionately about climate change and want help to get to net zero. Leadership is about giving them the information to enable them to make the choices they need to make and providing the policies to help them get there. As the noble Lord, Lord Browne of Ladyton, said, what we need are policies that do not stop people getting to net zero. We are still getting far too many policies that are high-carbon, low-nature. So those are the three things that a competent Government would be doing on behaviour change.

We are about to get a new Government under a new Prime Minister. What do we want them to do? First, there is the opportunity to refresh the net-zero strategy. Chris Skidmore’s review of the strategy is welcome. It means that the Government will not respond to the Climate Change Committee’s recommendations on getting to net zero until next March. This is good. Let us hope that the new Government take the opportunity to refresh the net-zero strategy and put behaviour change at its heart—because they will not get to net zero unless they refresh their strategy.

Secondly, the Government need to bring forward a public engagement campaign. All the evidence shows that public engagement is needed on this issue. I share the regret of the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, that the BEIS department was unable to persuade No. 10 of the need to spend £15 million or £17 million on a public information campaign to help people reduce their energy bills this winter. It would have done the job of both helping people get to net zero and lowering their energy bills. It is very depressing that the Government were not prepared to make that step. It suggests that a broader campaign on net zero and behaviour change is not going to be forthcoming—but that does not mean it should not be there.

Thirdly, the Government need to be refreshing their policies. We know that you cannot get people to change their behaviour by information alone. All the evidence that we on the committee received showed very clearly that you need the policies to will the means. The Government should use all the tools at their disposal—regulations, fiscal incentives and disincentives—and should address three key areas: how people heat their homes, what people eat and buy and how they travel.

If anything, our committee was perhaps a bit too ambitious in all our recommendations. I have heard both the noble Baroness, Lady Sheehan, and the noble Lord, Lord Grantchester, today prioritising a national drive for home insulation. This has to be the priority to help people change their behaviours and tackle what is a massive part of the greenhouse gas emissions that we face.

Those are the three priorities—reviewing the net-zero strategy, committing to a public engagement campaign and willing all the means available through the policy levers at the disposal of the Government. This is what good government looks like, not relying on the ideology we have heard spoken by the noble Lord, Lord Frost, and others.