01 Aug 2023
 | 01 Aug 2023

Enabling a political tipping point for rapid decarbonisation in the United Kingdom

Steven R. Smith

Abstract. Decarbonisation of the global economy is an ecological and humanitarian necessity. Much of the research on this defining task for humanity has focused on technological solutions, with less attention paid to the question of how to accelerate the political and policy changes needed. Like a growing number of countries, the United Kingdom (UK) has opted for a net zero by 2050 decarbonisation plan, based on least cost optimisation and designed to depoliticise the climate issue. The research presented here argues for a more radical, science and equity based rapid decarbonisation to net zero by 2035. Using the emerging concept of positive tipping points, it asks how advocates of rapid decarbonisation could transform UK climate politics and achieve decisive policy influence. Based on a thematic analysis of 47 expert interviews and 100 expert views in total, this multidisciplinary research examines the political, sociological, and psychosocial dimensions and proposes an adapted multilevel perspective to illustrate the enabling conditions for a political tipping point. It finds that the potential exists for an effective advocacy coalition for rapid decarbonisation, but the prospects for displacing the dominant coalition look very slim. It recommends combining top-down and bottom-up approaches to create a nationally coordinated movement that is also place-based and participatory, putting the public at the forefront of systemic change.

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Steven R. Smith

Status: final response (author comments only)

Comment types: AC – author | RC – referee | CC – community | EC – editor | CEC – chief editor | : Report abuse
  • CC1: 'Comment on egusphere-2023-1674', Frank Geels, 27 Oct 2023
    • AC3: 'Reply on CC1', Steven R. Smith, 15 Jun 2024
  • RC1: 'Comment on egusphere-2023-1674', Anonymous Referee #1, 17 Nov 2023
    • AC1: 'Reply on RC1', Steven R. Smith, 17 May 2024
  • RC2: 'Comment on egusphere-2023-1674', Anonymous Referee #2, 10 Mar 2024
    • AC2: 'Reply on RC2', Steven R. Smith, 12 Jun 2024
Steven R. Smith
Steven R. Smith


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Latest update: 22 Jun 2024
Short summary
Urgent government action is now required to stop burning fossil fuels and stabilise the climate. Some scientists believe wealthy countries like the UK should be aiming for 'net zero carbon' by 2035 at the latest. But generating the political support for this is very challenging, and unlikely. It would require a popular movement that persuades enough people to prioritise a sustainable future. This research examines what it would take to 'tip' the UK into supporting radical climate action.