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Seven in ten people not confident the UK will meet 2050 net zero milestone

24 January 2024
  • 70% of UK adults are not confident that the UK will meet its 2050 net zero target;
  • Recycling more household waste is seen as most effective way for households to live sustainably, while few people are personally likely to fly less or switch to an electric car;
  • People think actions taken by government on energy, regulations and transport will have the biggest impact on reducing emissions rather than encouraging change by individuals;
  • The cost of living crisis is the public’s top concern, closely followed by NHS waiting lists.

Seven in ten people say they are not confident the UK will meet its 2050 net zero milestone, according to a new survey of nearly 6,000 adults.

The findings come from the latest State of the State, an annual report on attitudes to government and public services published by Deloitte and Reform, an independent think tank.

This year’s report, which includes a survey by Ipsos UK, has a special focus on the country’s path to net zero, exploring levels of public confidence in the UK’s progress, its ability to meet its net zero commitments and their own willingness to make sustainable lifestyle changes.

Confidence levels in whether the UK will reach its target for achieving net zero emissions across the economy by 2050 were low – only 23% said they are very or fairly confident the UK will meet the target while 70% said the opposite.

The research found that younger people are significantly more likely than older age groups to believe the goal will be met (although still pessimistic overall). A third of 16-34-year-olds (33%) surveyed are confident about reaching net zero targets, compared to just 13% of the 55-64 age group and 14% of the 65-75 age group.

Achieving net zero

A third pointed to recycling and reducing household waste (35%) as making the biggest difference to people having a more sustainable lifestyle, the top priority from a list of 11 different options. Changes such as flying less (16%) or buying an electric car instead of a petrol or diesel (16%) are much further down the public’s priority list. A fifth (21%) of the public said they would change their shopping habits (such as sticking to seasonal produce).

When asked which actions they might personally take, people aged 55-75 are more likely to say they plan to recycle more (58%), drive less (24%) and fly less (20%) compared to other age groups. Whereas younger people, aged 16-34, are more likely than older groups to say they will switch to a more environmentally friendly way of heating their home (16%). There are also some sizable differences by gender, with women being more likely than men to say they expect to change their lifestyles in several measures; over half of the women surveyed (56%) said they would recycle and reduce household waste more, compared to 44% of men who would do the same.

When asked about which actions government could take to have the biggest impact on emissions, the top answer was to switch energy use away from fossil fuels (45%). In contrast, when asked about what they personally would do, only 16% of the public said they plan to use more environmentally friendly methods of heating their own homes, such as replacing gas boilers with heat pumps or using more insulation.

Other priority actions the government could take included the encouragement of greener transport (29%), but when asked if they are likely to buy an electric car instead of petrol or diesel – only 12% of people said they are likely to do so in the next couple of years.

Jayson Hadley, UK head of government and public services at Deloitte, said: “Our survey outlined two conclusions about the general public mood on achieving net zero: it's a priority, but not something they expect will massively change their lifestyles.

“It’s also notable that bigger actions involving individual changes of behaviour are much lower down the public’s list. However, the cost of living crisis may be having an impact here because many of the measures people can take require money.

“All of this suggests there is more work to do in order to convince the public that net zero is achievable and that this relies on their participation. There needs to be a broader shift towards more sustainable lifestyles and environmentally conscious public policy, if the UK is to make its transition to a greener economy.”

Public concern grows for immigration, infrastructure and NHS waiting lists

For the second year running, the cost of living crisis is the public’s top concern, with nearly eight in ten people (78%) citing it as a priority for improvement in the next few years. The next biggest issue for the public is the NHS, where worries about waiting lists have grown from 66% in the previous survey (September 2022) to 73% now. The issues the public believe will get worse in the next few years also include NHS waiting lists, with 59% of the public saying this, followed by the cost of living (55%) and housing (53%).

Other notable shifts since last year’s State of the State are around immigration and the country’s infrastructure. The percentage of the public who want to see improvements in how the UK controls its borders has risen in the past year from 37% to 43%, and the percentage concerned about the UK’s infrastructure has risen from 29% to 36%.

On tax and spending, the survey found that the UK public’s attitude is split. Three in ten (31%) said the UK should aim for lower taxes and lower public spending, but only 17% think that will happen in the next few years. In contrast 30% would favour higher taxes to fund higher public spending and similar (31%) expect this government to do this.

Charlotte Pickles, Director at Reform, said: “The public are deeply concerned about the state of public services, but most worrying for politicians, not only is there a sense that things are getting worse, the public do not believe things will improve any time soon. Yet at the same time, there is little appetite for more spending. That’s a difficult circle for any government to square.”

Public priorities remain consistent across the nations

Overall, across the nations in the UK, people in Scotland (30%) and Wales (24%) are slightly more optimistic about their government’s ability to deliver on net zero, compared to the UK government. The majority however are still not confident the goals will be met, according to the survey.

The top two priorities of cost of living and NHS waiting lists are consistent across the four nations, but there are some differences on other areas. Most notable of all are that concerns around crime (48%) and immigration (45%) are significantly higher in England than the UK average. In Scotland the third biggest concerns are housing, growth and climate change (all 46%), in Wales the third issue is jobs and economy (48%) and in Northern Ireland it is social care for the elderly and vulnerable (49%).


Notes to editors

About the research

Deloitte’s annual State of the State report examines public attitudes towards government and public services.


Ipsos UK surveyed 5,815 UK adults aged 16-75 between 27 October and 1 November 2023. This included respondents in England (3,861), Scotland (821), Wales (713) and Northern Ireland (420). Topic areas included: attitudes to taxation and spending, trust in government, public services and businesses, reducing regional inequality, state of the NHS, social care and the UK’s road to net zero. The results have been weighted to reflect the known profile of the adult population in the UK.

About Reform

Reform is an independent, non-party, charitable think tank whose mission is to set out ideas that will improve public services for all and deliver value for money.

About Deloitte WorldClimate

WorldClimate is Deloitte’s strategy to drive responsible climate choices within our organisation.
We recognise change starts within. Deloitte is committed to taking measurable, decisive action on climate change, empowering Deloitte professionals and engaging the broader ecosystem to create solutions that facilitate the transition to a low carbon economy.
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