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Making Net Zero Work for Everyone: The Role of Behaviour Change and Community Participation

Written by: Safeia El-Jack | 28th November 2023
4 min read

The UK has set ambitious targets to reach net zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050. 

This major transition will require changes in behaviour and participation from all households and communities. However, a new report from the Institute for Community Studies highlights that the transition risks widening existing inequalities if policies do not account for the varying constraints and opportunities different groups face.

The report argues we need a more “person-centred, place-based approach” to policy and collective action on net zero. This means understanding how the transition will affect different people’s everyday lives and capabilities. It also means recognising how community conditions shape participation. Without this, the transition may push vulnerable families further into deprivation.

The need for policy and other behaviour change interventions, co-produced with citizens, is something that we’re passionate about here at Magpie. We have evidence of it working across a raft of campaigns that we’ve overseen over the past fourteen years. The report argues transition must recognise people’s motivations, capabilities and starting points.

Community Participation

Community participation matters for an inclusive transition. The report found participation is enabled when people:

Tackling these requires coordinated policy and collective action at national and community levels. 

Different households face different challenges in the transition to net zero

The report draws on the work of Caplan, 2017; Kennedy and Snell, 2021; Snell, 2022, saying: “Households and communities in the UK do not start their journey towards transition from a place that is equal. Substantial concerns have been raised about the potential for the transition to net zero to disproportionately impact those already experiencing disadvantages.”

Outlining the barriers to economic participation, social participation, civic and political participation, education, employment and skills participation the report suggests a more targeted approach is needed to develop transition strategies, accounting for the different starting points, vulnerabilities and assets of different places in the UK.

Here are COM-B models analysing the barriers to participation in net zero transition across those domains:

Economic Participation

Capability: Lack of financial literacy, inability to afford upfront costs

Opportunity: Limited access to capital/loans, split incentives between tenants and landlords

Motivation: Focus on short-term costs rather than long-term savings

Social Participation

Capability: Lack of knowledge about low-carbon social options

Opportunity: Poor public transport and infrastructure for active transport

Motivation: Prioritising convenience / status quo in social habits

Civic and Political Participation

Capability: Lack of climate literacy and policy knowledge

Opportunity: Under-resourced community groups, lack of local influence channels

Motivation: Disempowerment and lack of self-efficacy due to government messaging

Education, Employment & Skills

Capability: Lack of awareness of green job opportunities

Opportunity: Limited training and employer investment in upskilling

Motivation: Uncertainty about career change, scepticism about true demand for green skills

Core recommendations for policymakers

Core recommendations for communications teams

Additionally, communications have a key role in enabling participation. The recommendations emerging from the report were very familiar to our team of creative behaviour change campaigners;

The path to an equitable net zero future requires unprecedented collaboration across government, business, communities and citizens.

Let’s get started – contact Magpie to learn more about how we can transition in an inclusive way.

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