10 Things You Can Do Right Now to Help the UK Hit Zero Emissions by 2050
A UK net-zero target would be “genuinely world-leading." But it’s going to take all of us to do it.
It’s been a huge week for climate change action in Britain.
First, on Sunday, Scotland’s first minister Nicola Sturgeon declared a climate emergency — making Scotland the first nation to make the symbolic gesture. Sturgeon was closely followed by Wales’ Environment Minister Lesley Griffiths, making a similar announcement on Monday.
And on Wednesday, the British parliament became the first in the world to make the declaration, after MPs voted on a motion brought by Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn, who called on politicians to do their “historic duty.”
And now, the Committee on Climate Change (CCC) has published a set of targets to put the UK on track to “become the first major economy to legislate to end our contribution to global warming entirely,” according to the government.
The CCC, the independent adviser to to government on climate change, has said the UK should cut emissions to nearly zero by 2050, including emissions from aviation and shipping.
Today the CCC advises the UK should set a Net-Zero emissions target for 2050, including emissions from aviation and shipping.— CCC (@theCCCuk) May 2, 2019
This stops the UK’s contribution to global warming and is achievable at low cost through UK domestic effort.
“This stops the UK’s contribution to global warming and is achievable at low cost through UK domestic effort,” the CCC tweeted on Thursday.
In October, the governments of the UK, Scotland, and Wales asked the CCC to “consider the UK’s long-term emission targets in light of the Paris Agreement and the IPCC special report on 1.5C.”
A temperature rise of 1.5 degrees Celsius by 2100 is considered the threshold for dangerous levels of climate change and, according to the CCC, if we’re going to stay below that rise we need global greenhouse emissions to hit zero by 2070 — and carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions need to be at zero by around 2050.
The CCC’s report says it “recognises the UK’s capability and responsibility to lead” and sets targets for each of the four nations in the UK:
- England to eliminate emissions by 2050.
- Scotland to do the same by 2045 — based on a greater potential for tree planting, and the fact it is reportedly more suited to carbon capture and storage.
- Wales to cut 95% of emissions by 2050, due to less scope for CO2 storage and “more hard-to-reduce emissions from agriculture.”
- Northern Ireland to follow the same targets as England, and eliminate emissions by 2050.
According to the CCC, if these targets are replicated across the world — coupled with ambitious near-term reductions in emissions — there is a 50% chance of staying below the 1.5 degrees Celsius temperature rise.
So far, the UK has halved emissions per person compared to 1990 levels, meaning that the UK is now at the global average, according to the CCC.
“Now is a key time for climate leadership,” says the report, published on Thursday. “A UK net-zero target would be genuinely world-leading and help support raising international ambition ahead of the UN climate summit in September.
“The changes required are substantial but the foundations are already in place: now is the right time to set a net-zero target and stop the UK’s contribution to global warming,” it added.
While some campaigners have reportedly warned that the target is too soft, the CCC said that an earlier date than 2050 “should not be set at this stage.”
“Some sectors could reach net-zero earlier, but for most 2050 appears to be the earliest credible date, avoiding the need for early capital scrapple or punitive policies,” it said, adding that a target of 2050 is still “extremely significant.”
The target until now has been to reduce emissions by 80% compared to 1990 levels by 2050.
So, how are we going to achieve the target?
The short answer is: all of us working together to make it happen.
The CCC says that there is no way the target can be achieved without government’s support through policies and funding.
“Challenges across sectors must be tackled vigorously and in tandem, beginning immediately,” it said. “That should be the clear understanding for the governments and parliaments of the UK, Scotland, and Wales when considering the recommended targets.”
It said that the target is “feasible”, but that it will “only be deliverable with a major strengthening and acceleration of policy effort.”
But, and this is a big but, 60% of the emissions reduction in the CCC’s scenarios involve some societal or behavioural changes — and that means us.
And it’s for our benefit, too, according to the CCC, both because the scenarios it suggests “can provide and equivalent or superior service for customers” — and because many of them come with added health perks.
“Where our scenarios involve changes in behaviour they are associated with wider benefits, for example improved health from more cycling and walking, and from lower average consumption of red meat,” it says.
Most importantly, it says: “The public will need to be engaged in the challenge.”
Here are 10 ways, recommended by the CCC’s report, that you can help achieve the 2050 target.
1. Home heating
The report recommends turning down your home thermostat to 19 degrees Celsius, even in winter, and suggests that instead we should be looking to better insulate our homes with draft proofing, for example.
It also recommends setting the water temperature in your heating system to no higher than 55 degrees Celsius.
For heating, you could consider switching to a low-carbon heating system like a heat pump — especially if you live off the gas grid. And if you're on the gas grid, consider a hybrid system.
The report recommends that all of us minimise air travel, especially long-haul, wherever possible.
You could take a leaf out of Greta Thunberg’s book if you’re looking for inspiration. When the 16-year-old climate activist travelled to the UK recently, she refused to fly and instead came by train.
If you have a car, says the report, “make your next car an electric one, and then charge it smartly.”
While the UK has already set a deadline for the end of sales of new petrol and diesel cars, for 2040, the report has already called for this to be brought forward to 2030.
It does highlight that, on top of the public looking to switch to electric cars, that the government must continue to support strengthening the infrastructure for charging electric cars — including for drivers who don’t have access to off-street parking.
Of course, it also suggests that instead of driving you try walking, cycling, or taking public transport to help limit your emissions.
4. Meat consumption
The CCC says that moving from a high-meat diet to a low-meat diet would reduce diet-related emissions by 35% — and it also recommends you look to cut out or reduce dairy products, alongside meat products.
5. Food waste
While we’re on the topic of food, food waste is also a big issue. Did you know that about a third of all the food in the world produced for human consumption is wasted?
The CCC asks that we eliminate food waste as far as possible, and if we do have to throw food away, to use separate food waste collections if available.
Biodegradable waste shouldn't be going to landfill after 2025, according to the report.
“This will require regulation and enforcement, with supporting actions through the waste chain, including for example mandatory separation of remaining waste,” it says.
And when it comes to other waste: it highlights the mantra, reduce, reuse, recycle.
If you’re buying something new — whether it’s furniture, clothes, or whatever — look for a quality product that will last. And if they do eventually break, it asks that we look to repair things rather than just replacing them.
As part of the “reduce, reuse, recycle” idea of cutting down what we own and what we throw away, the report also highlights the importance of sharing.
For example, with things that we generally use pretty infrequently, like power tools, the CCC recommends that we look to share these items with friends, family, or even neighbours.
As another example, if you don’t use your car a lot, you could consider joining a car club instead.
7. Energy efficiency
The report highlights LED lightbulbs as an easy-fix to a lack of energy efficiency in your home, and using electric appliances with high energy efficiency ratings.
If you’re a gardener, the CCC recommends that you only be using peat-free compost.
9. Money matters
If you don’t already know where your pension funds or ISAs are supporting, educate yourself.
There’s no point cutting down on your carbon in the rest of your life if your money is quietly invested in high-carbon industries.
You can find out more about how your financial investments can positively impact the world here. And there’s a lot more good advice for going green with all of your finances at Good With Money.
10. Seek out change
As well as these specific changes, the report also recommends that we all be looking for ways we can make changes at home, work, and school to help reduce emissions — and to support our peers and colleagues in making changes.
And on top of making the changes yourself, shout about what you’re upto, to help raise awareness among your networks about the need to act.