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Bringing public engagement to the forefront of environmental policy change

Wind farm

Our research drove policy makers’ decision making by revealing strong public support for some of the major changes required for the UK to meet its net zero target.

Meeting the UK’s legislated net-zero commitment to tackle climate change requires extensive changes, not only to energy infrastructure but also to people’s social practices and behaviour. Our research demonstrated that there is major public support for a change to renewable energy sources and a more sustainable less wasteful economy, despite a common perception of public resistance to such a change.

This changed UK policymakers’ thinking and embedded public engagement within the Resources and Waste Strategy for England and the Scottish Energy Strategy. It also gained international reach through inclusion in the UN’s climate change communications guidance.

Key research findings

  • Strong public willingness to move away from using limited polluting sources of energy and wasteful ways of using energy
  • Public desire for an improved energy system for Britain delivered through a long-term integrated plan to simultaneously address the climate crisis, energy security and affordability

"This was the first study of its kind anywhere in the world to consider public acceptance of the overall transformations required to decarbonise a country’s energy system across all elements of supply, demand, infrastructure and human behaviour. It set a novel research agenda and methodology that is being widely adopted now across the UK and elsewhere in engaging ordinary citizens in juries and assemblies to debate the policy challenges of climate change, ensuring a cleaner environment, and delivering on our net zero emission targets."
Professor Nick Pidgeon - Research Lead

Underpinning research

Researchers from the Understanding Risk Research Group at the School of Psychology, led two major projects to systematically investigate public attitudes to the transformation to renewable energy systems and the consumption changes required to meet the net-zero emissions target.

Project 1: Transforming the UK energy system: public values, attitudes and acceptability

The research team led a UK Energy Research Centre (UKERC) funded project to elicit greater understanding of public perceptions of changes to the whole energy system.

They achieved this by:

  • Interviews with stakeholders
  • Six one-day qualitative public workshops in England, Scotland and Wales
  • UK representative quantitative survey.

The research found that most of the British public are overwhelmingly committed to moving away from fossil fuels towards a new energy system that is affordable but modern and safe.

Project 2: Centre for Industrial Energy, Materials and Products (CIE-MAP) project

Many of the emissions that contribute to our carbon footprint go unnoticed because they arise at the point at which a product is manufactured: so called ‘embodied emissions’. This project aimed to identify resource efficiency opportunities in the product supply chain, alongside new ways of using products and services (e.g. wider access to product repair, community sharing of tools and equipment), that could deliver a reduction in such industrial energy use.

Along with interviews and four two-day qualitative workshops, the team also ran a nationally representative survey to investigate public beliefs about scenarios for reducing the energy used in the production and manufacture of common consumer products.

Working alongside environmental economists from Leeds University the team concluded that by adopting the most popular resource efficiency strategies highlighted by their data the UK could cut the embodied emissions from manufacturing common household products such as cars, clothing, electronics, appliances and furniture by as much as 39%.


Meet the team

Key contacts

Press coverage

Both research projects have attracted media interest from across the world, especially with the prioritisation of climate change in most governments' policies.

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