Within energy and environmental circles, the term “net zero” is common parlance.
It is hardly surprising, given how the government’s target to slash emissions to zero by 2050 underpins so much energy policy
But, it’s a different matter out in the wider world. Little noticed, amidst the wider Covid-19 crisis, the BEIS department published its latest quarterly tracker recording public opinion about the issues it covers.
For the first time, the survey included a question designed to glean public awareness about the recently introduced net-zero target.
This showed that 64 per cent of respondents had never even heard of the concept.
The poll also showed a dip in the proportion of the population who are concerned about climate change, which was down to 76 per cent from a peak figure of 80 per cent this time last year.
These figures matter because the UK faces a huge challenge ensuring public buy-in for what was shaping up to be a testing goal even before the current pandemic.
Much of the progress on the decarbonisation front so far has been in the power sector, which scarcely impacted on the vast majority of households who don’t really care how their electricity is generated as long as it works.
However, the next phase of the decarbonisation journey will involve much more intrusion into these people’s live. Electrification of heat and transport, the two biggest decarbonisation challenges facing the UK, will involve much more disruptive changes.
Many of those forced to replace their trusty boiler with a less tried and tested option, like a heat pump, will be understandably reluctant to make the move. And this will especially be the case if they haven’t got a clue about why they are being asked to do so, which on the evidence of the BEIS tracker is the majority of the British population.
The vote to approve the net-zero goal was nodded through by Parliament just under a year ago without even a vote, which some were uncomfortable with even at the then peak of Greta-mania.
Nobody who understands climate change seriously argues that net zero is the wrong thing to do.
It’s not an issue for today, given how coronavirus is crowding out every other concern.
But, to make sure that net zero doesn’t end up as warm words, at some point the public is going to have be involved more actively in the debate.