This paper explores the politics around the role of agency in the UK climate change debate. Government interventions on the demand side of consumption have increasingly involved attempts to obtain greater traction with the values, attitudes and beliefs of citizens in relation to climate change and also in terms of influencing consumer behaviour at an individual
level. With figures showing that approximately 40% of the UK’s carbon emissions are attributable to household and transport behaviour, policy initiatives have progressively focused on the facilitation of “sustainable behaviours”. Evidence suggests however, that mobilisation of pro-environmental attitudes in addressing the perceived “value-action gap” has so far had limited success. Research in this field suggests that there is a more significant and nuanced “gap” between context and behaviour; a relationship that perhaps provides a more adroit reflection of reasons why people do not necessarily react in the way that policy-makers anticipate. Tracing the development of the UK Government’s behaviour change agenda over the last decade, we posit that a core reason for the limitations of this programme relates to an excessively narrow focus on the individual. This has served to obscure some of the wider political and economic aspects of the debate in favour of a more simplified discussion. The second part of the paper reports findings from a series of focus groups exploring some of the wider political views that people hold around household energy habits, purchase and use of domestic appliances, and transport behaviour-and discusses these insights in relation to the literature on the agenda’s apparent limitations. The paper concludes by considering whether the aims of the Big Society
approach (recently established by the UK’s Coalition Government) hold the potential to engage more directly with some of these issues or whether they merely constitute a “repackaging” of the individualism agenda.