The government is failing to take the public with it on the journey to net-zero carbon emissions, a committee of MPs has warned.

Despite hosting the global climate conference COP26 later this year, and setting ambitious emissions reduction targets, the MPs found that public engagement so far has been “insufficient”.

They also highlighted the need for fairness in ensuring that both the impacts of the transition and the contributions required to meet the targets were distributed evenly across different groups.

MPs on the business, energy and industrial strategy committee looked into how the government had responded to the findings of the Climate Assembly UK – a focus group convened to understand public attitudes towards climate change policies.

The committee’s chair, Darren Jones, said: “At the heart of the CAUK proposals were the principles of public engagement and fairness, but ministers have so far failed to engage the public on any of the big changes we expect to see in the years ahead.”

The net-zero target commits the government to reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 100% by 2050 compared to 1990 levels. Earlier this year, it made a commitment to reduce emissions by 78% by 2035. 

A net-zero strategy is due to be published by the government before the end of the year to set out the milestones and plans for achieving zero emissions.

The committee warned that despite the government’s commitment to engage with the public, current plans were “insufficient”, especially for those no longer in formal education or those who are disengaged.

It called for a public engagement strategy to be published alongside the net-zero strategy later this year, and to base it on the findings of the Climate Assembly, which were published in September 2020.

“Whether it’s decarbonising heating in our homes, reducing our emissions from transport or dealing with changes in the workplace, we know the net zero transition will soon become a lived experience in every home across the country,” said Jones. 

“There is a great opportunity to make the net-zero transition a positive experience. But the government’s failure to engage the public means we risk people viewing the net-zero transition in a negative light and perceiving policy measures as being imposed.”

In addition to a net-zero strategy, the Treasury is committed to publishing a net-zero review to investigate how the costs of achieving zero emissions are distributed across the economy, and how evenly the benefits are returned.

“The upcoming net zero review is critical in ensuring fairness across society in the transition to net zero,” the MPs warned. “This should be published as a matter of priority to maximise the time available, both to consult and engage the public and businesses.”

They add that the “rationale and the route to net zero” must be “clear and transparent”, and called for specific timelines for the implementation of specific policies.

“This is key to earning the trust of both business and citizens, which would, in turn incite positive action across the population,” their report said.