The citizens have spoken: tax frequent flyers and get rid of SUVs, government told

Updated: Dec 23, 2020

Among the ideas suggested are a frequent flyer tax, phasing out polluting SUVs and restricting cars in city centres. They also proposed curbing road building and using the pandemic to cut emissions.

As you will have seen, the Government engaged us, the public, and created a citizens assembly of 108 people from all walks of life to share their views on actions that the UK government should be addressing to help us achieve our 2050 Net Zero carbon target.

The report says the government must show leadership on climate change and insists climate policies must be fair to all – especially the poorest in society.

This for me is a great start point but…. what is likely to happen to the report which is 550 pages long – is it going to be acted upon or will it slowly be buried without a trace?

We know that the Government need to develop a long term strategy to help us all do better – so it’s encouraging to hear of the creation of the Office for Environmental protection is being set up for just this purpose – working alongside our world leading Committee on Climate Change to hold the government to account and ensure we stay on track.

Lets not forget that The Climate Change Act 2008 committed the UK to an 80% reduction in carbon emissions relative to the levels in 1990, to be achieved by 2050. In June 2019, secondary legislation was passed that extended that target to “at least 100%”.

The group, or citizens' assembly, was set up by six government select committees - groups of MPs who look at what the government is doing and scrutinise policy.

Members of the assembly were chosen to represent a spectrum of views from all over the UK and committed 60 hours of their time to studying and debating climate change.

They met over six weekends and were asked to come up with ideas to help the UK achieve its own target of net zero emissions by 2050.

The members said it was "imperative that there is strong and clear leadership from government to tackle climate change.

One member, Sue, from Bath, said: A key theme of the report is education.

Ibrahim, a GP from Surrey, said: “The media has to take a role - schools as well. We perhaps need to look at the curriculum.

As we know communication and education is paramount – BUT, storytelling has to be the way we get the cut through that we so desperately need. Sir David Attenborough’s Blue Planet did more for climate change than it feels 20 years of environmental campaigning achieved – why? Because people could understand it, people believed it and it resonated with us as a society.

On the subject of what we eat and how we use the land, the assembly urged a voluntary cut of 20-40% in eating red meat.

“The government can't legislate against eating red meat," Amanda told us, "but with education, advertising and labelling I think we can change their attitudes towards eating red meat - as we did with smoking."

They also said:

• Businesses should make products using less energy and materials

• People should repair goods and share more, instead of owning all their appliances

• The UK should get more power from offshore and onshore wind, and solar power

• New housing developments must have good access to facilities through walking and cycling

What has the reaction been?

The MPs behind the assembly said the report "provides a unique insight into the thinking of an informed public to the trade-offs and changes required to help deliver on the objective that parliament has agreed". They said: "Their work merits action.”

Crispin Truman, from the countryside charity CPRE, said it shows "public appetite to end the UK’s contribution to the climate emergency has far outstripped government action.”

And Tom Burke, from the climate change think tank, e3g, added: “This is a striking tribute to the common sense of the British public. There is a clear lesson for politicians and editors across the political spectrum about the role our citizens are capable of playing in shaping public policy.”

What happens now?

We can only hope this is acted upon and that The Office for Environmental Protection is not just a pipe dream but an institution which is being readied for immediate action and to start forcing government to do less talking and take more action.