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Citizens Advice says public must be "at the heart of process" in net zero transition

Thu 23 January 2020 | Back to news list

In the first in a series of reports examining the impact of the net zero transition on consumers, Citizens Advice says that the government must put the public at the heart of the process or risk undermining the country's ability to reach the targets. The report 'Zero Sum' finds that 82% of people canvassed in a nationally representative sample said they support the goal to reach net zero by 2050. 

Citizens Advice is the official consumer watchdog for energy and has a statutory role in representing the interests of energy customers.(The charity was a leading participant in the LowCVP-facilitated Electric Vehicle Energy Taskforce which recently launched its report.)  

Though the large majority of people supported the commitment to reach net zero by 2050, many are worried about the costs and inconvenience of making changes - and where to go when things go wrong.

For example, less than half of UK adults (44%) realised they will have to switch to an electric car as part of the transition.

Only just over a third (38%) are aware they need to change the way their home is heated. The Committee on Climate Change believes 90% of homes need to install low-carbon heating systems for the UK to meet its net-zero goal by 2050.

The polling found that this 'aware' minority is largely willing to take the steps needed to replace their heating system or change their car to ensure the UK meets its net zero target but also that, even amongst this group, most say they’ll need help and support to make the changes.

In the case of the EV switch, for example, 72% said they’re willing to make the change but 66% of those people would need guidance, and financial support to change. 

Citizens Advice says without public understanding of why these changes are needed; support to help make those decisions; and help when things go wrong; public faith and trust in the process will be undermined. The charity argues this could make achieving net zero impossible.

Dame Gillian Guy, Chief Executive of Citizens Advice, said: “Public support for the changes needed to reach net zero is essential. Without it, the government risks fatally undermining the country’s ability to achieve a carbon neutral society, which is so urgently needed.

“The public overwhelmingly backs the net-zero target. But if people don’t understand what changes will be needed to get there and the process is complex and confusing, public support could quickly fall away.

To ensure that consumers are at the heart of net zero, Citizens Advice is calling for:

  • A heat policy roadmap - the government’s forthcoming heat policy roadmap must include specific consumer protections and a programme of support for people to adopt low-carbon heating systems

  • Clear information - to give consumers the confidence to engage with (and change) the way they use energy, companies providing energy products, services or supply must make information about products and services transparent and accessible

  • Net zero regulation challenge - government and regulators working to make sure that consumer protections can adapt to a changing market.

LowCVP has been in the vanguard of initiatives to improve the quality and availability of information to consumers in the context of road transport, for example in the design and launch of the colour-coded fuel economy label for cars.

Commenting on the report's findings, LowCVP's Managing Director Andy Eastlake said: "We know from experience that taking people with us on the 'Road to Zero' is vital, and a primary focus for the EV Energy Taskforce is the consumer support.

"If people don't realise why changes are happening, or if they don't properly understand the benefits of new technologies that are coming to market we risk the transition to net zero being significantly delayed." 

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