UK Markets closed

Cut meat, fly less and cycle to work to achieve net zero, say climate change chiefs

·5-min read
climate change protests
climate change protests

The Government’s advisers on tackling climate change have more challenges than usual to contend with. Britain faces the biggest cost of living squeeze in a generation, while Russia’s war on Ukraine deepens chaos in international energy markets.

Household energy bills are already at a record high of £1,971 and predicted to hit £2,800 in October - more than doubling since last year. Costly changes to clean up the energy system are sensitive, even if designed to bring bills down in the long run.

That is the backdrop to the Climate Change Committee (CCC)’s latest progress report, which addresses high bills as one of its core recommendations. Moving the costs of green levies - subsidising early renewable electricity projects - into general taxation could knock about £90 off energy bills, it says.

Lord Deben, chair of the CCC, said moving payments into taxation would be a “fairer” way of spreading the cost. It would also encourage people to replace their gas boilers with electric heat pumps, which run on currently expensive electricity.

Measures to cut bills are likely to find many supporters amid current high prices, even if higher taxes and heat pumps are contentious topics. 

In its 619 page report, the CCC ventures into potentially even more sensitive territory of lifestyle choices. It recommends the Government pay more attention to behavioural changes - nudging people towards greener choices, such as eating less meat and flying less.

It is concerned ministers are relying too much on technological advances and biomass production to meet carbon reduction targets.

That puts Whitehall in an awkward position. Ministers have tried to avoid focusing too much on behavioural change, wary of denting support for the green shift. Grant Shapps, the transport secretary, has spoken of “guilt-free” travel.

“Credible Government plans exist for over a third of the UK’s required emissions reductions to meet the sixth carbon budget in the mid-2030s,” the CCC says in its report on Wednesday.

“With a fair wind we will manage another quarter; and over a third cannot be relied on to deliver the necessary emissions reductions.

“These risks cannot credibly be tackled with an even greater reliance on greenhouse gas removal technologies.

“The Government should develop contingency plans, such as encouraging reduced consumer demand for high-carbon activities (e.g., through healthier diets, or curbs to growth in demand for flights).”

UK emissions have fallen by 47pc since 1990, with much achieved by cutting carbon out of the electricity system. Coal has been largely replaced with lower carbon gas, wind, solar power and biomass which is considered carbon neutral.

But the road gets tougher when it comes to stripping emissions out of heating, heavy industry, transport and the rest of the power sector. Switching gas boilers to heat pumps will create a surge in electricity demand. Many industrial processes rely on gas or coal. Electric batteries are unsuited to heavy duty goods vehicles.

Flying less, cycling more and eating less meat so land can be used to plant trees or biomass are among the choices people could make alongside huge infrastructure changes, the CCC indicates. It suggests encouraging a 20pc shift away from meat by 2030, rising to 35pc by 2050, and a 20pc shift from dairy products by 2030.

The average person currently consumes about 604g of meat per week, down from 756g in 2019, and about 1600g of dairy.

When it comes to flying, the CCC suggests reversing the cut to air passenger duty enacted in 2021. Other taxes, quotas, frequent flyer levies and better broadband could help “embed positive behaviours”, such as relying more on video calls which became commonplace amid the pandemic.

“The price of flying should be raised to the point that it acts as an effective signal to consumers that aviation has high emissions costs,” it adds.

Lord Deben notes these recommendations reflect changes in behaviour already taking place.

“The British carbon footprint for meat production, beef particularly, is the lowest in the world," he says. "There is a very simple change that needs to be taken. And many people are already taking it. So it's not out of line. It's exactly what people are doing. For the Government to support that is not the nanny state, it is merely accepting the reality.”

He adds: "Where flying is concerned - again, I don't understand why it isn't possible for the Government to say, for example, that most businesses have now discovered that instead of flying to particular places all the time, they can fly occasionally and do the rest by Zoom. Every business I know is doing that.

“We're doing it because the cost demands it. And for the Government to encourage that, and to set the standards itself, seems to me to be a very simple way forward.”

The report also recommends stricter rules on households’ energy performance, as well as a “public energy advice service” to advise on better energy efficiency at home. Meanwhile, carbon import taxes should come into force by 2030 at the latest, which could push up people’s bills, and road pricing should be introduced to help replace lost fuel duty in the shift to electric cars.

It comes as fears grow that Russia will cut off gas supplies to Europe this winter, deepening the energy price crisis. Kwasi Kwarteng, the business secretary, has asked coal-fired power plants to stay online and is encouraging North Sea oil and gas producers to increase production.

Chris Stark, chief executive of the CCC, says he is “not at all concerned” by brief extensions to coal plants. He adds: “What would make a really bad, really, really bad progress story is a blackout right now. We need to be confident about our energy system.”

A Government spokesman said the country should be proud of its progress so far and “we have clear plans to go further.”

They added: “The UK is forging ahead of most other countries with around 40pc of our power now coming from cleaner and cheaper renewables.

“This is backed up by £6bn of funding to make our homes and buildings more energy efficient, planting up to 30,000 hectares of new trees a year and more electric cars than ever before on our road - decarbonising our cars and vans faster than any other developed country.

“We are leading the world on climate change, helping over 90pc of countries set net-zero targets during our COP26 presidency - up from 30pc two years ago.”

Our goal is to create a safe and engaging place for users to connect over interests and passions. In order to improve our community experience, we are temporarily suspending article commenting