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Zero Carbon Britain: Making it Happen - report launch
A new report launched this week by the Centre for Alternative Technology (CAT) explores the barriers to reaching net zero greenhouse gas emissions, looking at how these can be overcome in a way that could bring a wide range of additional benefits.
'Zero Carbon Britain: Making it Happen' brings together a broad range of evidence from academic literature and grassroots projects to create a picture of the inter-related solutions that we need to reach zero carbon.
Rather than an unresolved technical challenge, it is increasingly accepted that rising to the climate challenge presents a mix of psychological, political and economic barriers. Zero Carbon Britain: Making it Happen sets out the positive, connected approach we need to overcome them.
Mapping out cutting-edge solutions from psychology, sociology, political science, economics and other social sciences, the report also draws on lessons from arts, culture, and faith and spiritual practice. Drawing on findings from a wide range of peer-reviewed research, it integrates these with leading expert views and stories from real-life projects that demonstrate how we can overcome barriers in innovative and exciting ways.
"Providing clear evidence that workable solutions already exist is vital," says project coordinator Paul Allen. "It empowers citizens and gives policymakers no excuse for inaction.
"CAT's previous research has shown that we have all the tools and technologies we need; this new report now demonstrates how we can overcome the cultural, economic and political barriers."
CAT chief executive Adrian Ramsay says: "The shift to zero carbon could be one of the most exciting opportunities in human history, offering many benefits including better housing, accessible transport, reduced obesity, better physical and psychological wellbeing, and more jobs. It's essential that we understand and start to overcome the barriers to making this shift happen."
Summary of key findings:
Politics and governance: Decisionmakers must build in zero carbon as a policy goal at all levels, increasing the ambition of the UK Climate Change Act to meet the Paris goals. CAT can encourage policymakers by showcasing evidence that workable solutions exist, and increase cross-party political support by building coalitions, intersecting with issues such as health and inequality. At the same time, the influence of vested interests on the policymaking process can be reduced by strengthening laws on transparency of lobbying. NGOs and citizens should have the right to question public policy, and fossil fuel companies can also be challenged through shareholder action and divestment campaigns.
Economics and finance: A policy shift is urgently needed to end the massive subsidies given to fossil fuels, and adopting a 'polluter pays' principle would ensure that the costs of environmental damage are no longer externalised. We must move towards an equitable, more resilient and sustainable economic system, and away from the narrow focus on economic growth and GDP. Key assets like the railways or national grid could be moved back into public ownership to ensure the necessary transition takes place, and so profits are reinvested for public benefit. Investment in zero carbon projects and community energy could be supported through municipal banks and citizen finance.
Psychology and behavior: While individual behaviour change is important, it should be seen as connected with the broader changes that are needed at social, industrial and governmental levels. Positive stories of collective action can counter feelings of helplessness, scepticism or detachment, and show others care. We must nurture intrinsic values such as empathy, cooperation and social justice at all scales. Information that highlights the links between specific actions and their effects is one of the most effective ways of influencing behaviour. 'Social norms' are also powerful; by developing an understanding of how such norms are created and how they function we can foster zero carbon behaviour as the new normal.
Overcoming carbon lock-in: Industrialised economies have become locked into fossil fuel dependency over many decades. We can challenge this by creating practical, clean energy projects at a local scale. These initiatives need to be supported by government strategies and resources. Local government also has a key role to play in increasing communities' involvement in the planning process, as well as using planning policy to encourage innovative solutions. Zero carbon alternatives must be made as attractive and convenient as possible, for example by combining energy efficiency refits with general home improvements.
Communication: Stories and images around positive solutions can counter the prevailing 'climate silence' and have been proven to be more effective at inspiring action than negative or fear-based narratives. It's also important to challenge media bias, tackle the concentration of media ownership, which gives disproportionate influence over public information and opinion, and regulate the kinds of advertising that fuel desire for ever more consumption.
Changing worldviews and values: Climate change is not the root problem but a symptom of consumer culture and a growing disconnection from nature and from each other. By increasing opportunities for people to connect with nature, we can build our collective concern for the ecological systems that support us, whilst also improving our happiness and wellbeing. We can counter consumerism by reducing the working week and promoting the sharing and circular economies. Faith groups, spiritual practice and the arts can also play a powerful role in shifting culture and inspiring positive action.
9th March 2017