We can all make a difference in the fight against climate change
With 70 days to go until COP 26, Anne Adrain highlights some of the actions we can all take to help tackle the issue of climate change.
The recent UN's Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report gave us all a stark warning about the extent to which climate change has already taken hold and the time we have left to take decisive and meaningful action.
Given the scale of the problem and challenge we face, it would be understandable and easy for us as individuals to question whether the changes we make to our lifestyle and habits can really make enough of a difference in the fight against climate change. But the reality is that we will all need to make changes to our lifestyle and behaviour to have any chance of winning this war.
What can we as individuals do to help reduce the effects of climate change?
The UK and Scottish Governments have set ambitious targets for the respective nations achieving net zero emissions. The ability to meet these ambitions will depend, to a large extent, on how the business community responds, but will also rely on the changes that we as individuals are prepared to make.
Here are some of the changes we can make to reduce emissions.
1.Think about where our food comes from and how it is produced
Around one third of all the food that is produced worldwide is wasted each year. As a result, the emissions associated with the production, transportation and storage of this food are also wasted. Furthermore, methane, which is more harmful to the environment than carbon dioxide, is produced by any food waste that is unable to be recycled and makes its way to landfill. It is estimated that food waste accounts for 8% of worldwide greenhouse gas emissions. If we all modify our consumption and buying habits, we could make a significant reduction in that percentage.
Shopping smarter and planning our meals in advance could cut down on the amount of food we waste and the associated environmental impacts. Paying attention to use by dates and buying products with a longer shelf life will also cut down on the amount of food we waste. Trying to shop locally means that the food we buy has had to travel a shorter distance to reach our plate and, as a result, generated fewer emissions. In turn, we do our bit to support the local community and suppliers.
Finally, eating food when it is naturally in season means fewer transport-related emissions and does not require intensive artificial heating processes. You could even try growing your own fruit and veg.
2.Reduce, reuse, recycle and the circular economy
The order of the three ‘r’s’ is significant – reduce first, then reuse and recycle when the other two are not possible. This is part of what is referred to as the circular economy where items are kept in use for longer as they are repaired, reused and recycled.
Wherever possible then, the philosophy should be to reduce our consumption in the first place. It is a sad reality that much of the waste we produce involves items that have been used only once. However, many business models, for example some in the fashion industry, are adopting a reuse and recycle focus which in turn reduces the amount of waste. Look at Carrie Symonds’ wedding dress which she hired for the big day sparking a trend in that practice.
Recycling and upcycling are becoming popular trends and the throwaway culture of discarding items when they are no longer perfect is changing. Online selling sites such as eBay and Gumtree provide a marketplace for the trading of these items. So not only can you pick up an essential item at a knockdown price, but you can also sell some of your unwanted goods and make a bit of money at the same time.
Surface transport is responsible for the majority of greenhouse gas emissions with cars the biggest contributors. Ironically though, it is an area where we can most easily modify our behaviour and significantly reduce the emissions we produce.
COVID-19 instigated a surge in the number of people taking up cycling and the benefits of walking in our natural environment for our emotional and physical health have been well documented. In Scotland there are funding schemes available to help with the costs of buying a bike, either through workplace schemes or government funding.
We do need to be realistic and acknowledge that, for some journeys, and some individuals, cycling and walking are not feasible options. But there are greener alternatives.
Recent advances in technology mean that there is now a range of electric vehicles available to purchase. Some countries have announced that they will be phasing out new diesel and petrol fuelled vehicles (in Scotland they will be phased out by 2030). The criticisms of some of the early electric vehicles in relation to range and lack of choice are a thing of the past and a recent survey by Which found that electric vehicle drivers were the happiest. As well as the environmental benefits, there are cost benefits too in the form of reduced road tax and fuel costs. There are some government incentives available in the form ofnterest free loans for the purchase of electric vehicles. So, if you are thinking about changing your vehicle, why not at least explore the option of an electric one.
At the moment, most of us rely on fossil fuels to heat our homes, with the majority of these coming from the burning of gas. This, as well as the lack of insultation in some older properties, accounts for much of the emissions produced by heating our homes. Greener heating alternatives are available and there is some government funding that can help toward the cost of installing a more energy and environmentally efficient heating system.
There are other things you can do to reduce your heating bills and the associated emissions such as installing smart meters and heating controls and switching appliances off standby mode when not in use.
Some local authorities also have area-based schemes to help tackle fuel poverty and can also assist with certain home improvements subject to eligibility.
Where to find out more
The Scottish Government has launched its Let’s Do Net Zero website with advice and tips for individuals and business on how to go greener.
WRAP is a charitable organisation, with offices in England, Wales and Northern Ireland, that provides helpful guidance and support on a range of issues including food waste and recycling.