Researchers from Imperial College London have suggested that easy environmental changes have become insufficient and that ‘upheaval’ in our everyday lives is the only way the UK will meet its target of cutting carbon emissions to net zero by 2050.
The experts warn that previous messaging promoting ‘small and easy changes’ will no longer be adequate to tackle climate change. Instead, they call for ‘high-impact shifts in consumer behaviour’ – including, but not limited to, eating less meat and dairy, replacing cars with bikes, taking fewer flights and switching from gas boilers at home to low-carbon heating systems.
The report – Behaviour Change, Public Engagement and Net Zero – has been prepared for the Committee on Climate Change (CCC) and serves as a detailed call to action for Government. Acknowledging the ‘inherent uncertainty in predicting levels of behaviour change over the long-term’, the report puts the onus on Government to facilitate a societal shift, rather than attempting to quantify ‘how much change can be expected’.
If the public are to become more engaged with the climate challenge and contribute to achieving net-zero emissions then the wider policy context will also need to be more supportive
Led by Dr Richard Carmichael, the paper states that obstacles must be removed in order for change to occur at the rapid rate required. “If the public are to become more engaged with the climate challenge and contribute to achieving net-zero emissions then the wider policy context will also need to be more supportive,” the report suggests, adding that ‘new compelling narratives’ are required to inspire a change in behaviour.
- Fossil fuel subsidies should end and taxes on low-carbon technology should be lowered.
- With home heating seen as the single biggest challenge in reducing emissions, Chris Stark from the CCC suggests one million homes need to be ‘decarbonized’ a year – starting immediately
- A ‘carbon fee with public dividend’ should be considered in place of ‘an otherwise regressive and unpopular carbon tax’
- Lower-carbon diets – such as plant-based – should be more widely embraced and carbon impact should be visible on product labels, till receipts and retail websites
- Consumers should be better educated on the environmental impact of different foods
- High-emission foods should see a price increase
- Major investment is required in rail, bus and cycling networks, with lower ticket prices
- ‘Excessive flying’ should be tackled with an Air Miles Levy, targeting the 15% of the population which takes 70% of flights
- Policies must work cohesively ‘to avoid negative outcomes and build public acceptance’.