Energy 2050 Pathways: A Public Dialogue

Energy 2050 Pathways: A Public Dialogue


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Problems and Purpose

The 2008 Climate Change Act committed the UK to a greenhouse gas emissions reduction of 80% by 2050. The Department for the Energy and Climate Change (DECC) and its stakeholders, sought to open up and encourage informed discussions amongst individuals and local communities. They commissioned the 2050 Pathways Calculator, an interactive tool that enables the public and experts to

·     Understand the scale of the challenge, and trade-offs involved

·     Explore and test their own preferred solutions

·     Translate these into action in their own communities [3, 4]

There were three dialogue components to the programme overall, all based around the 2050 Pathways calculator: a youth panel, deliberative dialogues and the development and testing of My2050 simulation website.

Youth Panel

A Youth panel and visioning processes with 16- 25 year olds (March 2010 to December 2010)

20 young peoples’ representatives met to explore pathway ideas informing Government on their policy choices. The panel had a duel role, to advise DECC on the thoughts and proposals of the youth community, whilst also relaying information from the DECC out to the wider Youth communities and organisations that support the panel [2]. Their report was presented on the 2ndDecember 2010 and links with the UN climate summit in Mexico.

2050 Pathways Local Deliberative Dialogues (February/March 2011)

This component aimed to engage representatives of the public in local communities across the UK, to promote informed debate and investigate local attitudes. [5]


My2050 Simulator


The development of a digital “serious games” interface for the 2050 calculator which engages, informs and consults the user about climate change and energy security and provides strategic energy and policy options to consider. A further aim was the development of dialogue toolkits to support the public and schools engaging with the energy 2050 pathways tools. [1]


The 2008 Climate Change Act committed the UK to a greenhouse gas emissions reduction target of 80% by 2050, with 1990 as baseline. This legally binding emissions reduction target is unique and sets the UK on a highly ambitious decarbonisation path over the coming four decades. It is expected that this will involve dramatic changes to the consumption of energy and lifestyles – especially for the younger generation.

In the July 2009 White Paper, ‘The Low Carbon Transition Plan’, the Government committed to publishing a roadmap setting out the path to an 80% emissions reduction in 2050, identifying pathways that allow the UK to meet the goals on emissions and energy security over the long term. 

Historically, the debate about the next steps in this process has been at national and international levels, with an emphasis on business and academic input. To open up and encourage informed discussions among individuals and local communities, DECC, with its stakeholders, developed the 2050 Pathways Calculator, an accessible and interactive tool that can be used by experts and the public. The Calculator is a digital tool that assists the user to evaluate different energy and emissions pathways towards 2050. The approach allows the user to test and understand high-level trade-offs between, for instance, domestic energy efficiency savings and supply of renewables technologies or between different transport strategies and bio-fuel options. It is designed to support an informed debate on the twin challenges of climate change and energy security, and to seek feedback from users on preferred pathways. [3]

In addition the DECC and Sciencewise Expert Resource Centre funded a public engagement programme based around the calaculator. This consisted of a youth panel, deliberative dialogue workshops and the development of dialogue toolkits and a simplified version of the calculator [6].

The workshops took place between 28 February and 8 March 2011. They preceded the earthquake and tsunami that hit Sendai, Japan, on 11 March 2011. These events may have altered opinions, in particular relating to nuclear technologies. Findings should be seen in this context. 


These 2050 initiatives have received considerable coverage through mainstream media, such as the BBC website and The Guardian. [4]

Originating Entities and Funding

Commissioning body: Department of Energy and Climate Change

Cost of project: £163 000 total (Sciencewise-ERC funding £145 000) [3]


The department of Energy and Climate Change funded and commissioned the public engagement programme, the Sciencewise programme provided support and co-funding. Following an open call, Ipsos MORI were commissioned to deliver the deliberative dialogues, OPM were commissioned to evaluate the project. Delib were commissioned to develop the 2050 calculator, Involve were commissioned to the dialogue toolkits.


The Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC) is responsible for all aspects of UK energy policy, and for tackling global climate change on behalf of the UK.


Sciencewise is the UK’s national centre for public dialogue for policy making involving science and technology issues, and is funded by the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS). 

Delib are a digital democracy company, and will be developing the front end for the 2050 calculator.

Ipsos MORI
Ipsos MORI is a UK market research company and is delivering the deliberative dialogues.

Involve are specialists in public participation and will be developing a dialogue toolkit from this project.

OPM is an independent centre for the development of public services and provides consultancy, research and leadership development. OPM will be responsible for the evaluation of the project. [1]

Participant Selection

Number of stakeholders involved: 12 experts at workshops


Number of public participants

Youth Panel: Approximately 20 (16 core members)

Deliberative Dialogues: 86

My2050 Simulation (March 2010): 10,215 [3]


Youth Panel


The panel consisted of 16 core members, with other young people becoming involved to support them at times. The DECC convened a “pilot” Youth Advisory Panel, members were selected to represent the many different youth stakeholders and groups that the DECC had worked with previously on the 2009 Act on Copenhagen campaign. The scope of the membership of the panel was extended once the pilot developed into the functioning panel and different organisations nominated young members to sit on the panel. Full details of members and associate dorganisations can be found on p. 64 of the “Energy how fair is it anyway? DECC Youth Advisory Panel” report. [2]


Deliberative Dialogues


Locations were chosen to give a geographical spread as well as a good spread of environmental indicators. Urbanity and sensitivity to environmental issues (e.g. having experienced flooding) were felt to be important distinguishers influencing awareness of energy and climate change within the local population. It was therefore decided to cover a spread of metropolitan, urban, and rural locations, with measures of likely sensitivity to environmental concerns flowing from locality. 


The sampling process was designed to cover a cross-section of representatives in each location. As specified by DECC, this included 

different councillor types, i.e. parish, district, county or city councillors; 

elected members of local governance boards and committees; 

local representatives from business forums; and 

local representatives from non-governmental organisations (NGOs). 


Participants were recruited by telephone from lists compiled using active search and the GovEval database. They were sent introduction and confirmation letters by email or post. Given that these audiences are difficult to recruit for half or full-day workshops, recruited participants were encouraged to refer others that would fit the categories above. [5]












Elected members of local governance boards and committees





Local representatives from business forums





Local representatives from non-governmental organisations










Testing the My2050 Simulation website


10, 215 people submitted their my2050 worlds via the my2050 Simulation website between 3- 29 March 2011. This was a self-selecting sample, i.e people who went to the My2050 website and chose to take part. 

Methods and Tools Used

The 2050 Calculator Web Tool


The tool presents users with three charts, describing the demand for energy, the supply of energy and the greenhouse gas emissions for the UK. Below the charts is a list of sectors. For each sector of the economy, four trajectories have been developed, ranging from little or no effort to reduce emissions (level 1) to extremely ambitious changes that push towards the physical or technical limits of what can be achieved (level 4). These are indicated by four numbered boxes. 


Clicking on a number selects a trajectory and the charts recalculate. If the user moves their mouse over the levels, a box will appear describing what that choice represents. Users can also find out more about each sector and what the changes would mean in practice by clicking the question mark icons next to each sector - these will display a short summary introducing the sector and explaining the levels and choices available. [4]


The Calculator was publicly available on the internet before the workshops. In addition to the Calculator, DECC uses a number of other engagement initiatives in relation to the 2050 target. These include 


My2050 Simulation: a simplified version of the Calculator which uses just 14 levers; 


the underlying Excel workbook: a more detailed version of the Calculator which allows 
people to see underlying assumptions; and 


 videos featuring David MacKay, DECC's Chief Scientific Adviser, who explains the challenges ahead. 
A key purpose of the workshops was to find a way to enable community leaders to effectively engage with the Calculator tool. The Calculator, which offers more levers than the My2050 Simulation and therefore more potential pathways, is ideal for probing beyond the top of mind issues. While it is more complex to engage with initially, the fact that experts were on hand throughout the workshops to offer advice and support made them a good environment in which to use the Calculator. Through these discussions, the user learns about the complexities, choices and trade-offs that achieving an 80% reduction entails. The amount of time available in a workshop setting allowed for engagement with such a more complex tool. While the Simulation would have been a more simple tool, this would potentially have masked the nuanced responses, particularly from more informed participants, who, if anything, wanted more options/levers rather than fewer. [4]


Youth Advisory Panel


The panel met at the DECC on a monthly basis and discussed key issues relating to young people energy and climate change. After 5 months the panel produced a report which the members took to their various organisations, to allow them to respond and feedback these responses to the government.


The panel was composed of a core group of 16 members. It was agreed the panel would be coordinated by an “independent” individual who has been involved with DECCs youth engagement work, but does not represent one particular organisation.


The panel used the Energy Pathways Calculator to develop an understanding of how a mixture of energy would be needed to power the country, and supported the panel’s discussions on which type of energy to support. The panel also travelled in small groups to visit power stations, community owned energy and other projects that sought to reduce demand. They ran two online surverys, face to face workshops, and spoke to young people from different organisations and universities gathering the views of nearly 700 people on energy. 


Deliberative Dialogue Workshops


Three Deliberative Dialogue workshops were conducted in England. Throughout the events, participants had a the opportunity to try out the Calculator on computers, engage in group discussions about the environmental themes that arise when using the Calculator, and then attempt to finalise a pathway on the Calculator that they would like to see implemented. The group discussions were moderated, and supported by stimulus material and an ‘on-demand’ expert, who could help with more detailed questions. This format was the same across the three workshops, but timings, number of computers, and number of experts on hand varied between locations. Full details of the discussion guides and stimulus materials are appended to this report. 


The role of experts was to 

                    explain technical details; 

                    look at pathways; 

                    draw attention to any inconsistencies; and 

                    answer other ‘how to’ questions that participants had. (5)


To maximise the opportunity for dialogue and deliberation, DECC was clear that it wanted to use workshops to engage with community leaders rather than online or other methods of engagement. Workshops encourage interaction and debate, thus maximising engagement and potential dissemination after the dialogues. Other approaches might have allowed for greater numbers of participants, but engaged with them in far less depth. The workshops were run according to the Sciencewise-ERC Guiding Principles. [4]



My 2050 Simulation


Delib were commissioned to create an interactive simulation whereby the public create their own solution to meeting the 2050 target. This simplified version of the 2050 calculator allowed users to manipulate 14 different levers, each representing a difference choice on the demand or supply side regarding the reduction of carbon dioxide emissions. The my2050 simulation was tested based on an analysis of 10, 215 people who submitted their My2050 worlds via the my 2050 Simulation website. The analysis evaluated the demographic characteristics of participants, who used which levers, common worlds and divisive levers. [6]

Deliberation, Decisions, and Public Interaction

Youth Advisory Panel 


The youth panel met on a monthly basis at the DECC, after 5 months it produced a report on its recommendations and findings.  The panel used the Energy Pathways Calculator to develop an understanding of the issue, including different types of energy and to develop a view on what type of energy to support. In addition, as discussed in the methods section, the panel visited locations such as power stations, community owned energy projects and projects seeking to reduce demand. The panel also sought the views of nearly 700 young people on energy, through two online surveys, face to face workshops, and visiting universities and other organisations and discussing the issue with young people. 


Their findings were published in the report “Energy how fair is it anyway? DECC Youth Advisory Panel”. The report provides outlines different types of energy, ways of reducing demand and generating energy, the forms of energy they support and recommendations developed by the panel. [2]


A summary of recommendations from the report is provided below


The government must

·     Ensure a fair deal for young people in the decision-making process

·     Actively work hard to ensure that Government does not lock young and future generations into ecological debt

·     Continue engaging in dialogue with the youth constituency and stakeholdership to ensure that the youth perspective is heard and responded to by government. [2]


A summary of the key findings is provided by the case study report

  • It is important to think about how energy is used before working out plans to create more of it. One of the Panel’s key recommendations is, therefore, that the Government supports measures to retrofit houses and offices to make them more energy efficient 
  • The Government must commit to keeping promises about making new houses zero carbon by 2016 – to ensure that new builds are significantly more energy efficient than they are currently 
  • The Government must continue to fund renewable energy technologies and incentivise others to invest in such technologies. Leading the way in supporting this technology will illustrate to investors the importance of taking this progressive risk
  • Unabated use of coal does not have a future in the energy mix from now until 2050 because it is the biggest carbon emitter. The technology that is being developed to keep coal as an option (carbon capture and storage (CCS)) is very expensive and is not set to be completed for commercial use for many years.  [3]


A more detail list of the recommendations for the housing and building sector, transport, micro generation, national grid and the generation of renewable energy is found in the Youth Panel report. [2]


Deliberative Dialogue Workshops


Deliberative dialogues took place in Ulverston, London and Nottingham.  The purpose of the workshops were to

·     Try out the 2050 Calculator on computers

·     Engage in group discussions about the themes that are relevant to using the Calculator to develop a successful pathway 

·     Attempt to finalise a pathway on the calculator that they would like to see implemented.


The group discussions were moderated and supported by stimulus material and an “on demand” expert. Timings, number of computers and number of experts varies in the different locations, details of these workshops is provided below:


Ulverston (24/2/2011)

1 full day workshop

27 participants

1 computer per participant

3 moderators and 4 experts


Nottingham (08/03/2011)

1 evening workshop

19 participants

12 computers to share

3 moderators 2 experts


London (04/03/2011)

1 full day workshop

40 participants

15 computers to share

5 moderators and 6 experts


Full details of the findings of the deliberative dialogues are provided in the “Findings from DECC 2050 Deliberative Dialogues” document (DD), the Case Study report provides the following summary of the key issues emerging from the dialogues. [5]


  • People engaged with the subject at the workshops and learned more about some of the less well-known technologies (such as electrification of transport), but they did not necessarily change their views or behaviour about more well-known technologies (e.g. nuclear) as a result of the workshops 
  • Participants’ approaches to developing a pathway seemed to be driven by considerations about what we should be doing, what seemed achievable and what was thought to be desirable. Nuclear technology, wind, electrification and bio-energy tended to be the technologies that evoked the strongest, and often negative, reaction and, as such, were often excluded. The absence of cost data meant some felt it was difficult to make an informed decision on the best strategy to pursue 
  • Not all participants bought into the 80% target, and others struggled to develop a pathway that hit the target. [3]



My2050 Simulation 


The my2050 Simulation was evaluated through the analysis of 10125 participants between 3- 29 March 2011. Participation was self-selecting, the analysis evaluated who used the tool, what levers people used, common worlds, divisive levers and who used which levers. Full details of these findings can be found in the My2050 Simulation report. A summary of the findings is provided below.


·       The people who submitted worlds were younger than average, which suggests the simulation did its job of engaging a younger audience.

·       Younger people appear to have different views on some levers (e.g nuclear and bio fuel) than older people in the sample, and this is worth keeping in mind when drawing conclusions, as the overall figures will therefore not be representative of the UK as a whole.

  • Users focused effort on demand-side measures (e.g. business greenness, home efficiency) and on issues they were familiar with (i.e. issues related to their everyday life) (CS). Just under half talk about supply side decisions as their motivation, suggesting that the most common approach was to alter demand to achieve supply objectives (e.g avoid fossil fuels or nuclear).
  • Green business was a particular popular lever. It is likely effort in this area does receive a high level of support but also worth noting there could be a methodological effect because this lever is the first one people come to.
  • The areas where views differed most widely were bio-fuel and manufacturing growth, followed by CCS, onshore wind and nuclear.  These solutions are likely to be the most contentious if put in place.
  • A significant proportion of participants did go back and change their world after their first draft suggesting there was some deliberation occurring. These included increases and decreases in effort on all the levers (although a reduction of effort in bio-fuel, nuclear, ccs, and offshore wind). (3,6)

Influence, Outcomes, and Effects

The website outlines the following outcomes of the project


It is too early to assess the long-term policy impacts of the four strands of this engagement programme. However, the pathways chosen by participants have been reported to and have informed Government decision-making. The outcomes have formed a key part of the debate around the options for achieving the UK’s carbon targets and delivering the low carbon economy, and have been presented to senior decision-makers. In particular, the Youth Panel received significant exposure to Government Ministers and key advisers. DECC is interested in the results of which pathways, worlds and levers are chosen in the My2050 simulation, as well as the demographic, attitudinal and performance data collected from those who submitted pathways through the My2050 simulation. These data, plus the results of the deliberative dialogues, have provided useful evidence in support of the common themes identified via the 2050 Pathways Calculator2. The engagement programme has increased DECC’s understanding of public views on energy and climate change, and their levels of emotion and ownership over those views. [1]


The case study identifies the following impacts on participants


Youth Panel 


Panel members identified a range of ways in which involvement in the panel has had a positive impact on them: 

  • They felt that their knowledge about the UK energy infrastructure had vastly increased which, in turn, has made them feel more confident about discussing and leading debates on energy related issues with their peers 
  • As a result of the dialogue, they also felt inspired to stay involved with, and do more in the way of, campaigning for low carbon alternatives 
  • They felt valued and part of something important 
  • They felt they really benefited from time spent learning from ‘like- minded people’, which included each other and representatives from DECC. [3]



Deliberative Dialogues 

·     For some participants, taking part in the workshops made them realise the ‘scale of the challenge’: they came away with a greater understanding of what achieving 80% carbon reduction target would entail and an understanding of what the impact would be on public life and society 

·     Participants described how attending the workshops raised their awareness and knowledge of energy issues and the options available for meeting the 2050 target 

·     For some participants, the workshops motivated them to use the 2050 Pathways Calculator within their communities. [3]

Analysis and Lessons Learned

According to the evaluation report, many aspects of the three components of the 2050 engagement programme were a success. With some minor exceptions, the deliberative dialogue events met their objectives and participants enjoyed being involved in the process and valued the opportunity to learn about the issues from both experts and other participants. Initial engagement to the My2050 calculator has been very promising and the target audience - young people – have been engaged. Youth panellists enjoyed the set tasks and learned from their involvement in the panel, which they felt was well-structured and managed. 

The primary shortcoming of the project overall was that the objectives were not clearly translated into the process or delivery and this led to confusion in some aspects of the work. 



The case study report identifies the following lessons learned from the process.


Youth Panel 

·     Successful operation of a youth panel requires clarity of purpose overall and of the specific purpose of each of the different activities in which members were involved to ensure they are able to use their time efficiently and maximise the value gained from different activities 

·     There was also a lack of clarity from panel members about the extent to which the work of the panel would have an impact on DECC’s decision-making. It is important to ensure panel members have a clear understanding of how their contribution is going to be used. [3]


Deliberative Dialogues 


·     Many participants felt they would have liked more information and the opportunity to prepare before workshops. Giving participants the opportunity to prepare may have helped them to feel less rushed when completing activities during the workshop 

·     Participants also commented about the level of knowledge they felt they needed to have to participate in the workshops. It seems that a challenge in the design of the workshops was pitching them at a level which suited most participants’ level of knowledge 

·     Some people had incomplete knowledge or misperceptions about some technologies, which they strongly believed to be based on facts and felt strongly about. As the Calculator assumes a rational discussion based on facts, this provided challenges in interpreting the results of the pathways as well as for the wider use of the Calculator.

·     Many of the shortcomings stem directly from an initial lack of clarity about the purpose of the workshops and the breadth of the objectives. It seems that the tension between the need to test the Calculator and to engage in rich deliberative dialogue about the issues was not properly resolved. 


My2050 Simulation 

  • My2050 provides limited opportunity for participants to listen to others, or share and develop their views 
  • People completed the simulation as a game or a challenge, but results could potentially have been different if this had been used as a policy consultation exercise 
  • The simulation could be a very useful tool for a wider deliberative process, either through prompting people to use it in a collaborative way or by embedding it within a workshop. [3]

Secondary Sources



[1] Sciencewise Website (2018) “Energy 2050 Pathways Public Dialogue” [Available at:



[2] Sherriff, C and Schneeberger, K (2011) “Energy: How fair is it anyway?, The Department of Energy and Cliamte Change Youth Advisory Panel” 


[3] Case Study Report


[4] OPM (2011) “Evaluation and Learning from the 2050 Public Engagement Programme”, July 2011


[5] Ipsos MORI (2011) “Findings from the DECC 2050 Deliberative Dialogues”, May 2011


[6] Ipsos MORI (2011) “My 2050 Simulation Analysis”

External Links




My 2050 School’s Toolkit


My 2050 simulation game



Case Data


General Issue(s): 
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United States
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Start Date: 
Tuesday, November 30, 2010
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Wednesday, November 30, 2011
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UK Government
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Ipsos MORI, Involve, Delib
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