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

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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.

Commenting on this, Deloitte UK head of government and public services, Jayson Hadley, 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.”