Climate change—the long-term shift in temperatures and weather patterns—is a global issue currently receiving much media attention. And, with the scale of extreme weather seen over the past few years—from bush fires in Australia to frequent flooding in the UK—it’s easy to see why. It’s clear that our climate is changing, and what’s also evident is the likely cause.
Most scientists agree that humans are changing the earth’s climate. Emissions of greenhouse gases from human activities are responsible for approximately 1.1C of global warming from 1850 to 1900, according to an Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report. Moreover, the same report found that the global surface temperature has increased faster since 1970 than in any other 50-year period over the last 2,000 years.
In response, the government’s Net Zero Strategy aims to help businesses and consumers transition to clean energy and green technology, reaching net zero by 2050. However, there are steps you can take now to reduce carbon emissions.
This article outlines what causes the climate to change, explains the term “net zero” and offers practical ways to help reduce your carbon footprint.
The Greenhouse Effect
The main driver of climate change is the greenhouse effect. Certain gases, called greenhouse gases, in the earth’s atmosphere trap the sun’s heat—like the glass in a greenhouse—stopping it from leaking back into space. Some human activities—such as burning coal, oil and gas—have increased the concentration of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, warming the globe and creating an increasingly unsettled climate.
Net Zero Explained
Often, greenhouse gases are collectively termed “carbon emissions.” This is because carbon dioxide (CO2) is the main gas emitted when fossil fuels are burnt.
The term “net zero” means achieving a balance between the carbon emitted into the atmosphere and the carbon removed from it. Net zero will be realised when the amount of carbon added into the atmosphere is no more than the amount removed.
To reach net zero, CO2 emissions from homes, transport, agriculture and industry must be reduced. Additionally, it may be necessary to leverage technology to help absorb more CO2, removing it from the atmosphere. Government strategies currently being researched include carbon capture, usage and storage.
The devolved governments have their own targets for reaching net zero. Wales is aligned with the UK government’s aim of net zero by 2050. However, Northern Ireland aims to cut emissions by 82% over the same period, and Scotland has committed to net zero by 2045.
How You Can Help
While climate change policies from governments worldwide are vital to lowering carbon emissions, individuals can do their bit to help. Consider the following tips to reduce your carbon footprint:
- Improve home energy efficiency. Home heating contributes heavily to the UK’s overall emissions. Avoid energy loss by trapping heat effectively. Implement proper draught-proofing and insulate hot water pipes and any hot water cylinder. Additionally, check that your loft insulation meets the recommended level of 270 millimetres. If you’re able, consider switching to a low-carbon green heating system.
- Use efficient lighting. A modern LED bulb uses much less energy than a traditional lightbulb and may lower your carbon emissions and electricity bills. In fact, replacing bulbs with LED lights could reduce your carbon emissions by up to 65 kilograms a year, according to the Energy Saving Trust. This is the equivalent carbon footprint of driving your car 220 miles.
- Recycle more. Every new purchase requires energy to be produced, so it comes with a carbon price tag. If later discarded, items can end up in landfills, a big greenhouse gas producer. Ideally, don’t buy unnecessary items in the first place. Otherwise, reuse or recycle items you no longer need. The Waste & Resources Action Programme (WRAP) charity has a handy tool to help you recycle goods in your area.
- Reduce food waste. The UK produces approximately 9.5 million tonnes of food waste annually, according to WRAP. Rotting food waste produces methane gas, one of the most damaging greenhouse gases. Avoid food waste by creating a weekly meal plan and freezing any leftovers. Remember, some foods produce more emissions than others. If you’re able, cut down on meat consumption in favour of plant-based alternatives. In fact, adopting a plant-based vegan diet could cut food-related emissions by 70%, according to research by Oxford University.
- Travel sustainably. If possible, consider switching to an electric car. Electric vehicles have zero exhaust pipe emissions and much lower CO2 emissions than a petrol or diesel equivalent. Alternatively, walking, cycling and car-sharing can help reduce your carbon footprint.
The transition to net zero is a crucial topic discussed across the globe. Although comprehensive change may need to come from clear and consistent international policies, you can do your bit to help. Besides, working towards net zero may come with many benefits, including cleaner air, greener spaces and better habitats for our wildlife.
For more information on net zero and improving your carbon footprint, contact us today.
This article is for informational purposes only and is not intended as medical advice. For further information, please consult a medical professional. © 2022 Zywave, Inc. All rights reserved.