Difficult policy questions lie ahead that could sow grains of partition- but could a ‘patriotic sense of national mission’ help smooth the path to net zero releases?
Just as the UK perceives itself extending the world’s efforts to set out on an epoch-defining economic transition to a net zero economy, the country – from both a political and cultural standpoint – has rarely felt more divided.
The UK is already five years in to a period of significant constitutional agitation, political indecision, and economic headwinds, first from Brexit and then from the coronavirus crisis. These historic challenges, coupled with the sluggish productivity and glaring inequalities that have come to define the 13 times since the global financial crisis, have reshaped age-old political devotions and supported the foundations for the purposes of an escalating culture combat that identifies political and media rivals scrap topics such as statutes, mask-wearing, political correctness, and flag-waving.
Against this volatile backdrop, the political consensus on the need for climate action has, perhaps suprisingly, been generally maintained. Extinction Rebellion’s approach to protest and Greta Thunberg’s interventions may not have secured universal approval, but political parties across the spectrum still concur with their central meaning – that climate change is an emergency that requires urgent and sustained action. Prime Minister Boris Johnson may have been willing to stoke the culture war on multiple breasts, but when it comes to climate change he has attacked the consensus and sought to position climate action as a central board of his agenda. Meanwhile, the private sector organizations remains more committed than ever to accelerating the net zero transition.
However, one only has to look across The Pond to America to see the constant hazard of climate change and the net zero agenda slipping into the racial war countenance quarry, where striking divisions between the Republican and Democratic gatherings have long held back policy progress. Is there a danger of the same happening here in the UK – of net zero becoming a brand-new territory in increasingly fraught culture combat? For Tim Lord, senior companion at the Tony Blair Institute for Global Change, if political leaders prove self-complacent – if they think it could never happen here – the health risks is a very real one.
“Difficult policy decisions lie ahead which will directly affect the way people live and work, and if they aren’t designed and communicated in the right way then politicians gamble leaving the field open for climate change to become a divisive party-political issue, and even weaponised as the next culture fighting, ” he alerts. “Support for net zero can be maintained – but action is needed to build and communicate a positive lawsuit for act which reverberates across the political spectrum.”
Lord, who has almost 20 years’ suffer working on environment, vigor, and industrial program – most recently as superintendent of the UK government’s decarbonisation strategy – has co-authored new research for the Institute which today seeks to address some of the crucial political questions circumventing the next stage of the UK’s net zero modulation, which will increasingly necessary the direct participation and subsidize of the British public.
Fortunately, the research begins by arguing the present situation is a good one as far as public and political expressed support for net zero is concerned. Assessing various sources of public polling on atmosphere topics in the last decades, including regular study by the Pew Research Centre and the UK government’s own Public Attitudes Tracker examinations, it concludes expressed concerns about climate change is at record levels. Not simply that, but unlike after the global financial crisis in 2007 -0 8, that concern has been sustained despite the chao of Covid-1 9. Climate change is now a major issue at the ballot box and, contrary to some media preconceptions, it is not just an issue for certain subsets of voters either, but is of growing concern across all age groups, income levels, and urban and rural areas of the country, according to the report.
In short-lived, politicians can be confident there currently exists strong and sustained desire for climate act right across the board. “Climate change is here to stay as a political issue, ” the report states.
Yet that is far from the whole picture. To date, life-styles have been broadly unaffected by decarbonisation that has witnessed the UK cut its emissions in half since 1990. But as anyone in the green economy knows, the second half of that jaunt promises to be much harder, involving tough political choices that instantly alter the public through changes to their transport, nutritions, and home heating. Meanwhile, there are fractures beginning to show in the broad coalition in support of the net zero mission, which in many ways follow the same dividing lines as those between ‘Leave’ and ‘Remain’ supporters that has defined British politics since the EU referendum in 2016. Polling indicates socially conservative voters tend to be much less supportive of climate action than more socially liberal voters, and that divide increasingly manifests the bases of the two main political parties in the UK.
Recent debates bordering plans to build the UK’s firstly coal pit in 30 years require a case in point. While environmental campaigners and the Labour Party have argued the project will add to greenhouse gas emissions and undermine the UK’s climate leadership credentials in the run up to COP2 6, some Conservative MPs have vocally argued that the pit is crucial for jobs and growth in the area. Against this backdrop, the government has flip-flopped on the issue, first tacitly supporting the project, and now launching its examination of the controversial plans.
As such, today’s report argues that in order to ensure a long-term political alignment of support for the net zero transition commanders across the political range will need to work hard to maintain it. “Getting this right – developing a unifying politics of the environmental issues that speaks to the concerns of the large bulk of the electorate – is perhaps the most important long-term political challenge of our time, ” it states.
For its part, the authorities concerned appears to be considering these risks. Earlier this month two cases of handiwork commissioned by government departments for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy( BEIS) be issued, one report on net zero public action and participation by Cardiff University’s Dr Christina Demski and another which solicited public beliefs on net zero that was carried out by Newgate Research and the University of Cambridge. Both universally support the view that, over the coming decade and beyond, the public may be required to far more directly involved in the net zero modulation than they have been so far, which will in turn necessitate brand-new date approaches from politicians and businesses to avoid pushback and division.
Demski’s report warns of a lack of public awareness about many of the challenges required to meet net zero, and warns that high levels of concern about climate change do not undoubtedly translate into committed support for the types of changes that may be required. As a outcome her analysis warns that “overall public date and participation may have the potential to impact the tempo of transmission, cost and success of net zero delivery”.
The Newgate and University of Cambridge work, meanwhile, involved a total of 93 participants from across the UK in online research, which sought to identify the easiest and toughest challenges for delivering decarbonisation, as well as how best to engage people with net zero programs. The two most contentious policy areas, it knew, were around vehicle possession and nutritions, with a clear desire among some groups to maintain freedom over choice over how and when they buy a private automobile or feed meat and dairy. Yet such research also emphasized “very limited awareness” among the public of possibilities policies that could be looked at in the course of the year in a bid to reduce carbon emissions.
“Ultimately people wanted net zero to be achieved in ways which respected individual choice and promoted wellbeing, which were seen to be fair in their distributional significance, and which did not limit interpersonal relationships or result in the widening of social prejudices, ” it concluded.
Clearly, participation with the public that openly addresses the new challenges, payments, and modifies ahead in the drive to net zero must be at the top of the agenda for the UK government’s environment policy, taking the baton from where exercises such as the recent citizens’ Climate Assembly UK began.
To do that, Lord today says lessons must be learned from the fallout of the Brexit referendum so as to avoid further polarisation and department on climate act. In particular, he points to the Remain campaign’s focus on the economic assertions for EU membership, while the Leave campaign opted for a more values-driven campaigning approach that was arguably more effective. “Similarly now[ with net zero ], you have to think about how are we frisking to a really wide prepare of values, so we’re not just talking about the ‘just transition’ and economic right, we’re not just talking about the moral disagreement for atmosphere activity, ” he tells BusinessGreen. “I wouldn’t dismiss either of those arguments, as they’re both important, but they’re not going to resonate with a wide enough group of voters for the kind of action that is needed for net zero to be politically sustainable.”
Consequently, his report indicates political leaders need to not only strengthen voters’ understanding of what net zero actually means for them, but pattern and communicate public policies that appeal to voters with different quality across the growing divide. It also sets out how fears that the transition could adversely affect jobs and communities must also be addressed head on, with clear assurances from political leaders that the mistakes of the past have been learned after the shuttering of industry in the 1980 s without the financing and transitional strategy that could have alleviated much of the resulting economic agony and social dislocation. And it points to the fact that moral and economic controversies for environment action are not enough on their own – instead a “patriotic sense of national mission” should be provoked which places emphasis on regional ownership of climate solutions and ensures that green growth and jobs are delivered “in a way that is meaningful and visible”.
Yet bringing patriotism into the realm of climate act also arguably views its own jeopardies. As antagonisms between the UK and EU over AstraZeneca’s Covid-1 9 inoculation roll out reveals, national grandstanding can serve to undermine much-needed international cooperation on crisis of world-wide proportions.
Lord, nonetheless, contends a constructive patriotism has a role to play. “Firstly I think what that’s really about is climate change being a polity rather than a politics of separation, because patriotism can be about requiring better communities, healthier life-styles and better places, etc, ” he says. “And furthermore, a hasten to the top on decarbonisation is undoubtedly a good thing. Some countries have different challenges and strongs in terms of getting to net zero. A patriotic framing of this that introduces a sense of national duty and shared endeavour can be really positive for the orders of the day. The other thing I’d say is that if parties was concerned at excessive patriotism, then a much bigger concern for me would be a world where we haven’t dealt with climate change, and what that will do in terms of world-wide geopolitics. Because the disruption to supply chains and some of the unmanaged affects, I see, will be very risky from a political perspective.”
As an example for businesses, he foreground General Motors’ recent electric vehicle push, which included a major advertising campaign pioneered by Hollywood comedian Will Ferrell that was screened to big audiences during the US Super Bowl. The advert light-heartedly calls for Americans to build driving EVs part of a patriotic mission to catch up with Norway, one of the world leaders on artillery vehicle approval. Interestingly, the ad does not once mention the words ‘climate change’.
“I assume that’s because GM thinks that is the most effective message for purchasers, and it’s an assertion around patriotism, and around the fact that these products are better than the high-pitched carbon or unsustainable alternative, ” Lord memoranda. “I think there’s a really interesting lesson, or at least a extent of reflection, in there for businesses thinking about how to sell themselves to consumers.”
Whether carefully-framed patriotism and national contender is the answer to avoiding a climate culture war and still further political fraction remains to be determined, but it is a compelling argument that – certainly in the case of Boris Johnson’s ‘world leading’ claims and GM’s TV adverts – is clearly already being tested out by both politicians and top businesses.
Whatever the answer, with tougher decarbonisation challenges onward, the wider public cannot be excluded from the net zero conversation for long, and ensuring unity of support for climate action is almost certain to become one of the most important missions for policymakers over the next decade. Indeed, the success of the entire net zero project relies upon it.
Read more: businessgreen.com