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Government risks “fatally undermining” net zero target, says Citizens Advice

23 January 2020

Citizens Advice is warning the government it risks fatally undermining the country’s ability to achieve net zero by 2050 unless it puts the public at the heart of the process.

In the first of a series of reports examining the impact of net zero on consumers, the charity reveals a gap in public understanding about changes that will be necessary for the UK to become  carbon neutral by 2050.

Citizens Advice is the official consumer watchdog for energy and has a statutory role in representing the interests of energy customers.

The commitment to reach net zero by 2050 was supported by four in five people (82%) surveyed by the charity. But the majority are worried about the costs and inconvenience of making changes - and where to go when things go wrong.

Only just over a third (38%) are aware they need to change the way their home is heated. The Committee on Climate Change believes 90% of homes need to install low-carbon heating systems for the UK to meet its net-zero goal by 2050.

Less than half of UK adults (44%) realised they will have to switch to an electric car.

The Citizens Advice polling found that this minority is largely willing to take the steps needed to replace their heating system or change their car to ensure the UK meets its net zero target. 

However, even amongst this group, most say they’ll need help and support to make the changes:

  • Of those who know they will need to change their heating system,

    •  79% said they’re prepared to do so

      • But of those, 76% say they’d need advice or financial support such as grants, before they went ahead 

  • Of those aware of the need to switch to electric vehicles, 

    • 72% said they’re willing to do so

      • But 66% of those people would need guidance, and financial support to change 

Citizens Advice says without public understanding of why these changes are needed; support to help make those decisions; and help when things go wrong; public faith and trust in the process will be undermined. The charity argues this could make achieving net zero impossible.

Major changes on the way

The UK’s decision to legislate for net-zero carbon emissions by 2050 means:

  • 29 million homes will need their heating system replaced with low-carbon alternatives - a monumental once-in-a-lifetime challenge

  • By 2040 all new vehicles will be effectively zero-emissions - requiring major upgrades to national energy infrastructure which will be paid for by consumers through their bills

  • New technologies and services in people’s homes like smart thermostats, electric car chargers and home battery storage will become widespread - changing the way we all use energy.

Dame Gillian Guy, Chief Executive of Citizens Advice, said:

“Public support for the changes needed to reach net zero is essential. Without it the government risks fatally undermining the country’s ability to achieve a carbon neutral society, which is so urgently needed.

“The public overwhelmingly backs the net-zero target. But if people don’t understand what changes will be needed to get there and the process is complex and confusing, public support could quickly fall away.

“We saw with the smart meter rollout how multiple problems eroded public trust in an important technology. Government can’t allow the same to happen again.”

Putting consumers at the heart of net zero

To ensure that consumers are at the heart of net zero, Citizens Advice is calling for:

  • Heat policy roadmap - the government’s forthcoming heat policy roadmap must include specific consumer protections and a programme of support for people to adopt low-carbon heating systems

  • Clear information - to give consumers the confidence to engage with (and change) the way they use energy, companies providing energy products, services or supply must make information about products and services transparent and accessible

  • Net zero regulation challenge - government and regulators working to make sure that consumer protections can adapt to a changing market.

Notes to editors

  1. For the full report - Zero Sums: How to prioritise consumer protections to ensure nobody is left behind on the path to net zero is available here.
  2. Citizens Advice commissioned a nationally representative survey of 2,002 UK adults, conducted online by Opinium. Fieldwork was carried out between 11-13 December 2019. 
  3. Citizens Advice is made up of the national charity Citizens Advice; the network of independent local Citizens Advice charities across England and Wales; the Citizens Advice consumer service; and the Witness Service.

  4. Our network of charities offers impartial advice online, over the phone, and in person, for free. We helped 2.7 million people face to face, over the phone, by email and webchat in 2018-19. And we had 29 million visits to our website. For full service statistics see our monthly publication Advice trends.
  5. Citizens Advice service staff are supported by more than 21,000 trained volunteers, working at over 2,600 service outlets across England and Wales.
  6. Citizens Advice is the statutory consumer advocate for energy and postal markets. We provide supplier performance information to consumers and policy analysis to decision makers. 
  7. Citizens Advice includes the national charity; the network of independent local Citizens Advice charities across England and Wales; the Citizens Advice consumer service; and the Witness Service.
  8. You can get consumer advice from the Citizens Advice consumer service on 03454 04 05 06 or 03454 04 05 05 for Welsh.
  9. To get advice online or find your local Citizens Advice, visit