• Oxford Climate Econometricians outline ‘comprehensive strategy’ to put UK back on track to meet legislated 2050 target;
  • Research focuses on triggering ‘kicks’ and ‘shifts’ from a small number of targeted interventions to deliver behaviour change;
  • Proposals include massive expansion of renewables; using electric vehicles as a network of storage units; and establishing more vertical and underground farms in inner cities.

Five ‘sensitive’ policy interventions would put the UK back on track to deliver climate neutrality by 2050, researchers at the University of Oxford’s Climate Econometrics Programme have outlined in a new strategy paper published in the Journal Renewable Energy.

Despite implementing targets and legislation to mandate zero net emissions by 2050, the Parliamentary Climate Change Committee has found the UK to be lacking in progress in some areas; with the recent Independent Review of Net Zero by Chris Skidmore MP stating that ‘actions were required’ to realise net zero opportunities.

The Oxford research, published by the University’s senior climate econometricians Professor Jennifer Castle and Sir David Hendry, has identified ‘sensitive intervention points’ that would trigger behaviour changes and put the UK on a path to meeting its target.

Sensitive Intervention Points (SIPs) are a mechanism that allow for a small or moderate policy intervention to lead to positive transformational change via kicks (altering a variable in an existing system that triggers a positive feedback dynamic) and shifts (fundamentally altering the system, as with the Climate Change Act of 2008).

Prof Castle and Sir David Hendry have pointed policymakers towards five SIPs that would induce behaviour change to adopt new technology:

  • SIP 1: Zero Greenhouse Gas Electricity Generation – greatly expanded renewable energy (RE) backed by increased storage and potential development of safe, small modular nuclear reactors.
  • SIP 2: Zero greenhouse gas emissions from transportation – then using Electric Vehicles (EVs) as a network of short-term storage units plugged into an intelligent, resilient and expanded grid; plus a government-funded scrappage scheme.
  • SIP 3: Low cost hydrogen from cheap surplus renewable energy, liquefied for medium term storage and industry – producing many products like glass far more cheaply.
  • SIP 4: Changing domestic energy to heat pumps and solar photovoltaics – after retrofitting, promoting solar windows and smart glazing.
  • SIP 5: Harnessing electricity in agriculture – expanding vertical and underground farms in inner cities and ground basalt as a cheap fertilizer.

Prof Jennifer Castle, the Director of the Climate Econometrics Programme at the University of Oxford, said that economists’ mantra of ‘carbon taxes’ would not be effective rapidly enough without behaviour change.

“Humans are creatures of habit and inertial behaviour reflects high perceived costs of economic and psychological adjustments to change. We need to shift those perceptions because the good news is that many of the changes that we need to make to achieve net zero by 2050 are becoming cheaper and more possible.

“The focus of SIPs is because behaviour change measures need to be implemented quickly and must have wide reach to be effective and ensure climate neutrality by 2050 can be met. By targeting a small number of areas we can achieve outsized impacts and maximise the benefits of the energy transition for the UK.”

Sir David Hendry, of the Climate Econometrics Programme at Nuffield College, University of Oxford, said that the UK was at risk of falling behind on its pathway to net zero.

“Recent Parliamentary reports have raised the alarm that the UK has drifted off track on net zero. Our research shows that it is possible to get back on track with a few targeted and well-timed interventions.

“Coal use has fallen to near zero in the UK since the 2008 Climate Change Act - but eliminating coal from energy production was the easiest reduction: now both oil and natural gas usage must be removed sequentially. The rapidly falling costs of renewable energy sources like solar photovoltaics and wind turbines combined with improved storage methods could eliminate most oil and then gas usage by 2050 – but only with policies that target sensitive intervention points.”

“An extended grid should be self-funding; vehicle obsolescence steadily replaced by EVs using cheap increased RE will have near zero net costs and ultimately be cheaper than our current fossil fuels; surplus RE could lower many production costs; heat pumps are cheap to run but need retro fitting of badly insulated houses; and basalt is cheap and inexpensive to grid, so a green transition need not be costly, while raising living standards and maintaining employment.”


  • Paper: Castle, J. L., & Hendry, D.F. (2024) 'Five sensitive intervention points to achieve climate neutrality by 2050, illustrated by the UK', Renewable Energy, 226, https://doi.org/10.1016/j.rene....
  • Accompanying Paper: Castle, J. L., & Hendry, D.F. (2024) 'Can the UK achieve net zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050?', National Institute Economic Review, https://doi.org/10.1017/nie.20...