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Press release

57% of the UK wants to reduce carbon emissions this year - What measures could help?

06 February 2024

Today, the Institution of Civil Engineers (ICE) and the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Infrastructure (APPGI) have published a policy paper, What are the public behavioural changes required to meet net zero? 

The recommendations include establishing a go-to hub of information on net zero, making it easier for people to make greener choices to heat their homes and travel, and including disabled people’s needs in design decisions for blue and green infrastructure. 

The paper also recommends creating a clear policy path to reach net zero, and sharing information between government, large businesses, SMEs, and the public. 

Recent changes in net zero policy have partly been attributed to the cost-of-living crisis. These include delaying the phase of the sale of new petrol and diesel cars. 

However, research shows that most of the population is keen for change now.


Public appetite for change is strong, even in cost-of-living crisis 

Public support and behaviour change to reduce emissions will be critical to reach the UK’s net zero ambitions.  

Research carried out by Thinks Insight & Strategy (Thinks) for the ICE focused on potential behavioural changes over the next 12 months across transport and home heating. 

The findings illustrate that the appetite for change is strong, despite the cost-of-living crisis. 

Two key groups open to changing behaviour emerged in the research. These “open to change” groups make up 57% of the population. 

The majority of the population agrees – we must change behaviour 

23% are net zero enthusiasts. This group wants to make changes and feels like it can. It is likely that they have already made some changes. 

34% of people are seeking empowerment. This group wants to make changes but feels it needs extra support to do so. 

The appetite for change was clear in focus groups. One participant said, “I'm going to make every contribution I can do in my own small way, as ordinary as it may be. I think everyone should see it from that perspective because in the next 20 years the world might be in peril." ​ 

Only 13% of people are identified as net zero resistors. This group feels the UK doesn’t need to reach net zero and has no intention of changing behaviours. 

Smart interventions can help drive change 

Part of the population (30%) is less eager to make changes but is not directly opposed to them.   

They are described as reluctant followers and say they will only make significant changes to their behaviour when required to do so.  

However, as other people change their behaviour, this group is likely to be influenced by their example. The ICE's policy research and recommendations illustrate how key intervention could also encourage this group to make positive changes earlier.  

For example, if people who are considering buying a new car are presented with information about both electric vehicles (EVs) and traditional internal combustion engines when doing online research, wider exposure to the positive benefits of EVs could help drive take-up.   

Similar interventions could be introduced to encourage more people to use public transport, improve their home’s insulation, or install a heat pump. 

Small, regular reminders, like green number plates can also act as “behavioural norming nudges” according to the paper. 

Andrew Jones MP, Chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Infrastructure, said,

“Net zero is a positive to embrace, rather than a problem to solve. To make this critical and necessary transition, we must engage the support of the public and provide the support needed to help them make the best choices. While there are significant challenges to overcome, there are also many opportunities. We do need healthy debate about how the net zero transition will be paid for, but there will be significant economic and societal benefits from the actions we take.” 

Professor Anusha Shah, ICE President, said, 

“Infrastructure professionals have a huge responsibility to improve the public’s quality of life. Part of this responsibility is bringing the public with us on the journey to net zero. To do this, we must ensure that our work is both nature and people positive. For society to change, there must be government support, and we as infrastructure professionals should play our part in catalysing the much-needed positive change. We can, and must, genuinely collaborate at all levels to create a more sustainable, resilient, and equitable future.” 

 Notes to editors

Please contact press office [email protected] for more information. 

  • Phoebe Woollard, media relations executive at ICE