Meaningful collaboration key to meeting net zero ambitions

Meaningful collaboration key to meeting net zero ambitions

Hannah Corbett

In recent weeks G7 climate and environment ministers reaffirmed their commitment to ‘achieving net zero emissions as soon as possible and by 2050 at the latest’.  Yet progress against these targets needs to accelerate.  In their 2020 Progress Report, the UK’s Climate Change Committee highlighted that only four out of 21 indicators were on track, as was the case in 2019.  There are no simple answers to this complex public policy challenge which will transform elements of how we live and work and evolve the structure of today’s economy. But how research, governments, industry, civil society and citizens work together to frame and respond to the challenge will be key. How best to enable the types of meaningful collaboration required was central to the discussion at a recent event hosted by the University of Strathclyde’s Centre for Energy Policy (CEP) as part of the Engage with Strathclyde month.

Framing and responding to the net zero challenge

In his presentation,  Chief Scientific Adviser at the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, Professor Paul Monks, argued that a ‘system of systems’ approach to realising the transformations needed for net zero was key. In essence, actions from individual sectors were crucial but would not be sufficient in themselves. Efforts must also take account of the interactions between sectors such as transport, power, and buildings.  Professor Monks also underscored the point that much has been done to understand the net zero challenge but now research needs to focus on identifying and implementing solutions.  An idea that was certainly reinforced but also further nuanced by some of the ensuing discussions and presentations.

CEP researchers argued that in the race to identify solutions the following factors must be considered:

  • Who needs to be involved to ensure consensus and support is built around the framing and response to the net zero challenge?
  • How are the impacts and trade-offs associated with different net zero actions understood and factored into decision-making processes?
  • How do we measure progress more effectively and ensure that learning is shared and acted on?

An inclusive response to net zero

With considerable changes to lives and livelihoods – how people heat their homes, how they travel, the jobs they do and the impact on sectors of the economy needed to support change - building a broad consensus around economically, politically and socially feasible pathways to equitable and sustainable net zero transitions that can shape action is critical.  With this in mind, both Professor Karen Turner and Dr Rebecca Ford highlighted the need for governments, industry and citizens to understand the scale and nature of these changes and the inherent benefits and trade-offs.

As Professor Turner argued, based on her research, one way of achieving this is to employ a combination of ‘grassroots and top-down approaches’ to research design and delivery.  From the ‘grassroots’ this involved working directly with governments and industry to develop timely and pragmatic scenarios needed to build a picture of the economy-wide impacts of investing in net zero actions such as carbon capture and storage or energy efficiency, and from the ‘top-down’ working with civil society to underpin advocacy aimed at decision-makers with rigorous evidence based research.  This two-pronged approach can also strengthen existing relationships and build new partnerships between academia, governments and industry with the ultimate aim of delivering robust policy that will lead to tangible positive societal outcomes.

Dr Ford further underscored the point that partnerships must also include citizens and communities, and excluding or marginalising them from decision-making processes around net zero could erode trust and limit efforts to build consensus around action.  Her presentation drew on examples of how such marginalisation could result in alienation and anger.  For example, the ‘gilet jaunes’ protests in France, which were initially focused against fuel taxes, and that came to encompass a more wide-ranging resentment against growing inequalities.  Energy justice and putting people at the heart of decision-making around climate change issues is further explored in a new report co-authored by Dr Ford in her role as a COP 26 Chancellor’s Fellow at the University of Strathclyde.

Measuring success on the path to net zero

Engagement and inclusion were also themes that surfaced in discussions around how progress is measured against meeting net zero ambitions.  Drawing on his work on carbon markets and the EU Emissions Trading System, Dr Patrick Bayer’s presentation highlighted that rigorous policy assessment  often happens far too late, with strategies for policy assessment and the associated engagement between research and policy needing to be built in at the earliest stages of policy design.  As a result, limited data often exists on the effectiveness of policies, for example around carbon markets’ impact on reducing carbon emissions.

From her work in the EnergyRev research consortium, Dr Ford also underscored that measuring success of net zero transitions needs to go beyond the necessary but more easily quantified e.g. reductions in greenhouse gas emissions and replacing fossil fuels with renewables, to the less tangible but equally important e.g. creating more prosperous and equitable communities for which we don’t have the necessary data and evidence. 

Ultimately, there was a common thread across all three presentations that engagement from the outset – across sectors, disciplines, governments and citizens – is absolutely vital to collective efforts to build prosperous, fairer and sustainable societies.

Watch the presentations again