The UK public backs a carbon tax on polluting industries, higher levies on flying and grants for heat pumps in order to tackle the climate crisis, according to the biggest analysis of policy preferences ever published.

Almost 22,000 people chose their favoured mix of policies to hit the government’s 2030 target for emissions cuts. A speed limit of 60mph on motorways and a campaign to reduce meat eating by 10% were also among the most popular measures, all of which had between 77% and 94% public support.

The public went further than the government, choosing to surpass the current carbon target by 3%. Age, location and political leaning made little difference to the policy choices, the researchers found, with an “overwhelming consensus” for strong and fair climate action.

The most popular suite of policies meant people earning less than £22,000 would be £44 a year better off, thanks to redistribution of the carbon tax to the less well-off and savings on heating and car bills. Those with incomes between £35,000 and £53,000 would pay £195 more a year to fund the policies. The policy suite was also estimated to support a million jobs by 2030.

Weekly cost or benefit of most popular climate policies

The researchers said the public wanted the government to lead the transition to a net-zero economy, rather than leave it to tax measures and the market alone.

“The British public have chosen the future they want – one with green jobs, clean air and thriving nature – and which doesn’t hit the worst-off in the pocket,” said Tanya Steele, the CEO of WWF, which produced the report with thinktank Demos. “This is within our grasp, but only if the UK government listens and sets out a clear plan and strategy for getting there.”

The government has said it will publish its net-zero strategy before it hosts the crucial Cop26 climate summit in Glasgow from 1 November. The strategy will set out how the UK will meet its ambitious carbon targets and is seen as a key test of the nation’s credibility on climate.

The most popular policy mix selected by the public was:

  • A carbon tax of £75 per tonne on polluting manufacturing and construction businesses, with some funding to invest in new technologies, supported by 94% of people.

  • Better-integrated public transport coordinated by local government (93%).

  • Food campaigns and support from government, supermarkets and food companies promoting plant-based diets and cutting meat and dairy consumption by 10% (93%).

  • A comprehensive UK-wide electric vehicle charging network by 2028 (91%).

  • Raising flying costs, particularly on frequent fliers (89%).

  • Some restrictions on cars entering city centres and a 60mph speed limit on motorways (82%).

  • Support for less intensive farming and paying farmers to improve nature, including woodlands (79%).

  • Grants for heat pumps and home insulation for low-income households and low-interest loans for others, reaching 1.4m heat pump installations a year by 2030 (77%).

“There is an overwhelming consensus of support behind [these] solutions,” said Polly Mackenzie, the CEO of Demos. “The UK government must listen to the public and urgently set out a strategy that will provide a greener, stronger and better future for us all.”

The new analysis, titled The Climate Consensus, used a market research company to provide a nationally representative sample of 22,000 people, including participants from every parliamentary constituency. The participants used a climate calculator to choose the policies they preferred in order to meet the government’s 2030 target of a 39% reduction in emissions compared to 2019.

“The package that emerged is therefore more than just a list of popular policies: it is a measured set of choices, compromises and investments the public are prepared to make to tackle climate change,” the report said.

The range of policies offered by the calculator were taken from work by the government’s official climate change advisers, the Climate Change Committee (CCC), while the emission reductions were calculated using a government tool. The analysis was funded by the National Grid and ScottishPower.

The UK has cut its emissions by almost half since 1990, largely by phasing out coal and installing renewables to generate electricity. However, future cuts will affect people much more directly, including their cars and home heating systems.

Alok Sharma, the president of Cop26, and Kwasi Kwarteng, the business and energy secretary, wrote in 2020: “It is important that we involve the public and bring them with us, so that the decisions we make align with society’s concerns and values.”

Last week, Chris Stark, the chief executive of the CCC, said a UK-wide public information campaign on climate change and net zero could usefully be deployed, as is already underway in Scotland.

“There’s this feeling often of how difficult this will be. [But] many of the changes are profoundly positive, not just for the climate but also for things like health, air quality and our experience generally.”


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