The dreadful rain that we experienced yesterday evening – at least here in the East Midlands where I am based – was an apt backdrop to a BBC Panorama programme that focused on what we have to do in this country to halt the disastrous effects of climate change on the planet.
Following the recent United Nations report which highlighted the need for a change to a largely plant-based diet to alleviate climate change, the Panorama programro me highlighted a report by a group of researchers at Imperial College, London. Their advice to the government went a lot further than the UN report, stating categorically that we must eat less meat and dairy, swap cars for bikes, take fewer flights and get rid of gas boilers at home.
The report, prepared for the Committee on Climate Change advises that major changes in lifestyle are the only ways to meet current government-set targets for climate change, which oblige the country to cut carbon emissions to net zero by 2050. And to achieve these changes, the need has to be communicated effectively to the general public for wider understanding and acceptance.
The report, entitled Behaviour Change, Public Engagement and Net Zero, sets out a lengthy list of tasks for the government, including abolishing subsidies for fossil fuels, a cut in taxes on low-carbon technologies and an introduction of a carbon tax. But at the same time, consumers must be given clear information about the environmental effects of the actions.
The major lifestyle changes the report highlights are:
Food currently accounts for 30% of a household’s carbon footprint in the UK. The report therefore says that a significant shift to lower-carbon foods is required, particularly a plant-based diet. We all understand that food from animals uses way more resources than food from plants, and the Committee on Climate Change has recommended to the government that a cut of 20% is needed. However, this report states that a major change in dietary habits is required, with a massive shift to plant-based foods required to meet set targets. People should be brought on-board by emphasising the health benefits of a plant-based diet, as well as educating as to the environmental impact of a traditional animal-based diet.
Home heating is seen as the single biggest challenge in terms of reducing the UK’s emissions. Lower carbon heating systems must be enforced, particularly air-source heat pumps, which extract warm air from outside and pumps colder air back out. Lower taxes and VAT on this type of heating system, as well as insulation, must be introduced in order to encourage their use, and incentives given to consumers to make the changes necessary.
We are all used to jumping in our cars to go even the shortest of distances in a world where time is, apparently, of the essence. This is especially so for those of us who live in rural areas, where public transport is limited or even non-existent. Yet transport accounts for 34% of a household’s carbon footprint, and a major investment in the rail and bus networks are therefore required, with lower ticket prices, as well an extensive cycle network. There has to be a shift to public transport, walking and cycling, and the public encouraged to do this. It also recommends incentives for electric car purchases be offered to the public, including the far greater provision of charging points.
15% of the population are estimated to take 70% of all flights. This element are the ones who must be targeted, with an Air Miles Levy to discourage excessive flying, when modern communication systems can reduce the requirement to be somewhere for a meeting. But while the report wants to penalise frequent fliers, it does not want to raise prices for those families simply taking an annual holiday.
The programme was interesting on a number of levels, but what is clear that we must, without question, tackle these major climate change issues with massive policy changes, as well as keeping the public onside by offering advice and incentives, as well as educating them as to the effects no change will make on all our future. It’s not just our country that depends on it, our whole planet is at stake.