The Prime Minister has announced that the Government is taking a new approach to net zero. It will put consumers first, be honest about trade offs, and emphasise pragmatism in reaching decarbonisation targets.
Before his speech, Onward and Public First polled 4,010 adults between 8th – 15th August and conducted eight focus groups with 2019 Conservative voters from across England, to test voter attitudes to net zero following the Uxbridge by-election.
From this data, Onward has identified three lessons to shape the next phase of the net zero reset.
Voters expect ambition from the government alongside pragmatism
Support for climate action remains strong among voters, including 2019 Conservatives. The net zero by 2050 target enjoys strong support from the British public (56%) and 2019 Conservative voters (49%), far outweighing opposition (13% and 20% respectively). 43% of Conservative voters think tackling climate change is the most serious challenge facing the world, ahead of war (38%) and mass migration (38%).
Voters see shifts in net zero policy through the lens of “anti-politics”
The most common responses among the public if the Government was to get rid of the net zero target is that they would be worried about future generations (33%) and would consider the Conservatives to be untrustworthy (26%).
With 2019 Conservative voters, the picture is more nuanced. The highest response was still that it would make them worried for future generations (28%). But Conservatives were more likely to think the Government was taking the cost of living crisis seriously (27%) or that it was sensible (22%). But like the public, many 2019 Conservatives would trust the Conservative Party less (18%) or take future pledges from them less seriously (18%).
Voters are cautious about costs of net zero, but optimistic about benefits
The Government should not mistake scepticism against single unfair policies for opposition to environmental policy in general. 53% of the public are willing to accept costs to tackle climate change, while 40% are not. Focus group participants were overwhelmingly negative about the ULEZ expansion to Greater London, which they saw as an unjust tax on the poor disguised as an environmental policy. Out of ten options given, net zero was the last to be blamed by the public (16%) for a higher tax burden.
Voters support policies which help them to go green
What do these three lessons mean for the Government’s net zero reset? The public supports climate action and wants it to be done fairly and affordably – and Conservative voters support policies to help families and businesses go green.
A majority of the party’s voters (52%) support tax incentives to help landlords insulate rental properties. Over two to one support reducing VAT on public charging points (41%) and introducing a diesel scrappage scheme (45%). Nearly half (49%) support more financial help for struggling households to pay for insulation.
Practical policies to help people go green and build support for new infrastructure should be central policy announcements in the run up to the 2024 election. Reaching net zero will require action that is both pragmatic and bold, proportionate and ambitious. The public sees no contradiction in these positions. Nor should the Government.
Adam Hawksbee, Deputy Director of Onward, said:
“There’s no political reward from pausing net zero, and the Prime Minister was right to reject those siren calls in his speech. But he needs to back up his approach with popular policies to help people insulate draughty homes, move to renewable energy and afford electric vehicles.”
Simon Clarke MP, former Levelling Up Secretary, said:
“The public overwhelmingly supports net zero, and we Conservatives must lead efforts to tackle climate change. As Onward’s research shows, voters want to see Government action to build renewables, help people insulate homes and make electric vehicles more affordable. Delivering on these popular policies would show that our party is committed to tackling climate change, securing new clean industries, and protecting our planet for future generations.”
Siobhan Baillie MP said:
“This Onward research shows Rishi was right to put families’ finances first when it comes to our net zero ambitions.
“Everybody wants to do their bit to help protect the environment and many are already doing so. But many also will also need help to upgrade their homes and switch to electric cars, not to be taxed and forced to change at great expense and worry when the technology or infrastructure is simply not there yet.
“It’s clear from this poll that Conservatives can lead on this pragmatic, ‘stepping stone approach’ to meet the target and they should continue to focus on real life net zero policies that help, not force, people to go green.”
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