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Why Carbon Literacy for the Civil Service?

February 2022 by William Gibb

Following COP26, the UK has an opportunity to remain at the forefront of global leadership in tackling climate change and delivering a green and just recovery from COVID-19. This is supported by the majority of Britons, who want the UK Government to demonstrate international leadership, and exert its diplomatic influence to persuade other countries to set more ambitious emissions reduction targets. To drive action and build confidence both in the UK and internationally, the Civil Service must lead by example in further demonstrating progress towards net zero. Civil Servants have a key role in clearly communicating the rationale for behaviour change in a way that resonates with the public and empowers the nation to act. This role in raising ambition and inspiring behaviour change is of unprecedented importance, as nearly 60% of all policies needed to meet the UK’s sixth carbon budget require some element of behaviour change. Civil Servants have a formidable sphere of influence to enact change through supporting the government in developing and implementing well-designed, targeted and effective policies which prioritise public engagement, ensuring credible policies back up ambitious targets, and providing the clear policy signals needed to incentivise and catalyse low carbon markets and accelerate private sector buy-in. Requiring businesses to pledge to reach net-zero before they can bid for major government contracts is one such example of how the government can provide clear policy certainty.

Civil servants also have a vital role to play in increasing accountability and ensuring that public money is spent wisely. As one of the largest purchasers in the UK economy, the Government spends £49 billion annually on contracts for goods and services, and has the opportunity to lead by example in how it procures and governs goods, services and operations. With the government saving over £160 million from reduced energy consumption, waste and water in 2018-2019 compared to a 2009-2010 baseline, this highlights the potential to reduce government spending whilst simultaneously cutting carbon, energy and waste. With over 400,000 staff across the UK, a carbon footprint of almost two million tonnes of CO2 per year and the collective energy use equivalent to that of a small city or Heathrow Airport, the challenge is substantial, but provides a unique opportunity for the Civil Service to continue to lead by example and further instil a low-carbon culture.

In order to translate political will into achieving the urgency of the speed and scale of the change needed, decision making must be aligned with net-zero and embedded into all roles and activities such as policy proposals, procurement contracts and delivery plans. As the Rt Hon Kwasi Kwarteng MP, the Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Energy, highlights: “we need to have a cross-Government approach if we are to be serious about meeting the [net zero] target.” Empowerment through education is key to this cross-government approach through raising awareness, sharing knowledge and expertise, showcasing positive behaviours and championing best practice. In other words, engagement and training is needed for all Civil Servants to enable them to play their part in tackling climate change.

There is a wealth of evidence that proves Carbon Literacy training changes people’s behaviour, and enables and motivates them to take action on climate change. Jacobs UK indicates that typical realised carbon savings, from a programme such as Carbon Literacy, are at least 5-15% per person. The Carbon Literacy Project was recognised by the United Nations at the COP21 climate negotiations in 2015 as one of 100 ‘Transformative Action Projects’ worldwide that could materially change the way we deal with climate change. The Alliance for Sustainability Leadership in Education highlights: “All staff must receive Carbon Literacy training. It is relevant to every single job role and net-zero will not be achieved by anything less than everyone playing their part.”

As we seek to green our recovery post-COVID-19, Carbon Literacy empowers Civil Servants to make informed cost-effective, long-term, sustainable decisions, through embedding awareness of the climate impacts of everyday actions. Carbon Literacy provides Civil Servants with the agency to actively engage with departmental priorities and ambitions, the motivation to engage in devising and implementing solutions both in their professional and personal lives and the knowledge and skills to cascade and mainstream environmentally sustainable and socially responsible values throughout the Civil Service and beyond. As experts in their fields, Civil Servants understand the unique issues their department faces. Who better to come up with these solutions than your staff, working collaboratively cross-departmentally?

We are delighted to announce that we have released a new Toolkit for the Civil Service. Commissioned by the UK Government Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) and the Greater Manchester Combined Authority, the Toolkit is a flexible and adaptable framework for certified Carbon Literacy training within Central Government Departments, Executive Agencies, Non-Ministerial Departments and executive Non-Ministerial Departments and executive Non-Departmental Public Bodies. For more details on our new Toolkit and the importance of Carbon Literacy for the Civil Service, click here.

If you would like to request the Civil Service Toolkit, please email gov@carbonliteracy.com

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