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The virus and the climate: winning consent for Net Zero

This report argues that politicians must deliver immediate and tangible benefits from a post-COVID-19 "green recovery" or risk squandering support from voters.

During the UK’s lockdown, the public accepted considerable social and economic disruption to mitigate the effects of coronavirus. Some have argued that this sets a precedent for further interventions to tackle climate change. This report, informed by the findings of a recent Social Market Foundation roundtable, cautions that approach. It argues that public support for climate action is not unconditional and that appealing to the public’s willingness to endure further hardship in order to tackle climate change – something voters perceive to be abstract and remote – could damage the Net Zero agenda.

Key points:

  1. Explicit comparisons between the efforts made to mitigate COVID-19 and those required to reduce carbon emissions are unlikely to win public support and may prove harmful to the Net Zero agenda.
  2. Instead of appealing to the public’s willingness to endure more economic and social discomfort to deliver environmental objectives, policymakers should emphasise the benefits that could arise from decarbonisation, especially for household finances.
  3. The importance of clear, simple and repeated messaging must be given more recognition in formulating and delivering climate policy.
  4. “Green recovery” policies should prioritise small-scale, quick-impact decarbonisation work, especially the decarbonisation of homes.

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