The Government has established an environmental ‘nudge unit’ to work out how to persuade people into green behaviours such as driving less and cutting down on meat.
The team was set up in April this year because of a recognition that the next phase of decarbonising will require much more personal behaviour change.
The 45 per cent cut in emissions already achieved since 1990 has come mostly from the phase-out of coal and its replacement with renewable energy such as offshore wind.
Boris Johnson on Friday set the UK one of the world’s most ambitious targets to cut emissions, by 68 per cent within the next decade, up from a previous target of 61 per cent.
The new ‘behaviour change and public engagement team’, which is working from inside the Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy department, is focused on how to get public buy-in for further emissions cuts, which will be targeted at what we eat and how we travel and heat our homes.
BEIS will also work to ensure that green policies do not unfairly impact one area of society.
The Government has not made any calculations for how much reaching net zero will cost, but the NAO said it could ultimately reach hundreds of billions. The cost of inaction would be far greater.
The head of the unit is Gervase Poulden, a former environmental journalist and committed vegan.
Its existence was revealed in a report this week from the National Audit Office, which warned that the UK faced a “colossal challenge” in reaching its legally binding goal to be net zero by 2050.
The Government’s policies have so far been dismissed as inadequate. The 10-point green plan unveiled last month would leave emissions at 5 per cent below even the previous reduction target, according to analysis by energy consultancy Aurora.
One of the trickiest areas will be to improve energy efficiency and switch heating systems in the UK’s draughty homes.
Installing a heat pump is expected to cost between £8000 and £17000. A £2bn Green Homes Grant to encourage insulation measures has so far had fewer than 300 successful applicants.
The widespread uptake of smart meters will also be needed to help handle increased electricity demand from heating and cars.
The 10-point plan included the ban of new petrol and diesel cars from 2030 but experts, including figures from the car industry, this week warned there would also need to be a significant reduction in the amount of traffic on the roads.
Dr Steve Melia, senior lecturer in transport and planning at the University of the West of England told MPs on the Environmental Audit Committee that “if we are going to achieve these carbon budgets, we’ve got to be significantly reducing traffic.” He pointed to targets of between 20-60 per cent reduction.
Konstanze Scharring, director of policy and government affairs at the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders was asked whether traffic level reductions would be necessary.
She said: “I think absolutely we need to look at all methods of reducing the impact of road transport.”
Meanwhile, the NAO reported that there was an increasing recognition in Government that consumers would have to reduce their meat and dairy consumption.