A new report into the feasibility of achieving a net-zero economy by 2050 has concluded that “a relatively small number of key behavior changes… will deliver most of the necessary emission reductions.” While this includes slight cutbacks in our collective meat consumption and air travel, the authors insist that the creation of a net-zero world “does not call for a reduction in living standards.”
Produced by the Tony Blair Institute for Global Change, the report grapples with the measures that the UK must implement in order to reach its goal of becoming net-zero by mid-century, as well as its interim targets of cutting emissions compared to 1990 levels by 68 percent in 2030 and 78 percent in 2035. Doing so will entail reducing non-renewable energy use as much as possible and offsetting any emissions that can’t be eliminated.
The authors explain that almost all emissions reductions in the decade leading up to 2019 were “delivered through measures requiring no behavior change”, with the decarbonization of the UK’s power sector being responsible for 87 percent of these improvements. However, they go on to warn that over the next 15 years, a considerably greater proportion of reductions will need to be achieved via lifestyle changes.
According to the report, 59 percent of all emissions reductions will have to come from behavioral adaptations between 2020 and 2035, with technological innovations providing the remaining 49 percent.
In concrete terms, the authors say this will require us all to cut the number of miles we travel by air by around six percent. Our road mileage will also have to drop by four percent, while around 60 percent of all cars will need to be electric by 2035.
Citing a recent analysis by the Climate Change Committee, the report states that meat consumption in the UK must decrease by 20 percent by 2035 and a further 15 percent by 2050 in order for the country to meet its targets. Other key changes include installing low-carbon heating systems in around 40 percent of homes by 2035 and decreasing the volume of waste sent to landfills. Overall, the report calls for the amount of waste generated by each person to be cut by 37 percent over the next 14 years and says this can be achieved via reduced consumption and increased reuse and recycling.
“Behavior change is unavoidably a much more important part of the response to climate change than has been the case to date,” write the researchers.
However, they go on to insist that “the most politically deliverable pathway to net zero is one that focuses on a limited number of specific behavior changes, minimizes the need for massive lifestyle changes such as an end to flying or mass conversion to plant-based diets, and that maximizes the delivery of wider benefits.”