To plan for the future, it is important to understand what is needed to achieve carbon neutrality or net zero carbon emissions.
Key elements of the Net Zero scenario (see my summary) are:
HEAT – Improved home insulation, smart control systems and widespread use of efficient electric heat pumps; together with hybrid hydrogen boilers, particularly in older homes that cannot be insulated to the highest standards. In suitable areas, bio-methane gas and district heating may be used.
TRANSPORT – Reduce car use by walking, cycling, using buses and trains, and travelling less. Also switching to electric cars and flying more efficiently and less frequently. Trains and lorries to be either electric or hydrogen powered.
ELECTRICITY – Fully decarbonise the power supply through more large-scale renewables, together with some gas power combined with new technologies for carbon capture and storage. Also more local renewable energy and storage, together with a flexible smart grid, which is able to better manage demand.
DIET – Reduce meat (especially beef and lamb) and dairy consumption, which have high methane emissions.
WASTE – Reduce waste, especially food waste, and reuse and recycle more.
LAND – Low emission and efficient farming practices, more energy crops and less productive agricultural land switched to other uses, particularly more woodland and peatland restoration.
INDUSTRY – Decarbonise industrial operations and phase out the use of fluorinated gases in medical inhalers, refrigeration, air conditioning and heat pumps.
OFFSETTING – Any remaining greenhouse gas emissions to be offset through carbon capture and storage.
We should choose to adopt carbon-saving habits and technologies whenever we can. As well as reducing our carbon footprints, better diets, warm homes and more walking and cycling improves our health too.
Widespread adoption of changes needed to achieve net zero carbon will require new policies and programmes by government and local councils. These need to be introduced and developed as quickly as possible. They also need to be implemented fairly, so that changes are affordable for all and extra assistance is provided where needed.
Many of the changes should reduce our impact on the natural world and be accompanied by plans to increase biodiversity and wildlife habitats.
Zero Carbon Britain (ZCB) provides another important future scenario for living carbon free, which has recently been updated by the Centre for Alternative Technology.
The paths taken in ZCB are similar to those by the Committee on Climate Change in Net Zero. However, there are differences due to ZCB only using existing technology, without relying on unproven future developments, and aiming to achieve bigger reductions in energy demand. ZCB excludes the future use of carbon capture and storage technologies, and proposes greater levels of home insulation, bigger reductions in car use and meat and dairy consumption, more woodland, more bio-methane gas (produced from food waste and crops) and a smaller role for hydrogen.
The Centre for Alternative Technology (CAT) have provided an interesting comparison between the ZCB and Net Zero scenarios, which shows CAT believes deeper carbon and energy savings can be achieved, while also showing some of the similarities between the two carbon neutral scenarios for our future.
At the local government level, both scenarios point in broadly similar directions for action on heating, transport, electricity, food and farming, waste and land. We need projects and programmes to progress this action and to learn what works best.
The differences between the two scenarios also show there will be important choices to be made on the depth of changes needed, the selection of some key technologies and whether carbon capture and storage has a realistic and practical role.
As general guidelines for taking action in our homes, communities and places of work, ZCB recommends the following (page 140-1):
- Significantly reduce or even eliminate air flights – take the train, use Skype and holiday more locally.
- Walk or cycle when possible, and avoid taking the car, especially for short journeys.
- Use public transport when you can. Share lifts or join a car share scheme. Invest in an electric car.
- Eat less meat and dairy, and avoid palm oil; this will lead to huge savings on GHG emissions and biodiversity loss. Going vegan is better still.
- Switch to a green tariff provider for your electricity.
- Invest in insulating your home to the highest level. Use natural building materials and buy wooden furniture. Ensure all the products you use are sustainably sourced.
- Buy things which last, or things made from recycled materials. Reuse, reclaim, recover or mend any items or materials that you can. Think before throwing things away and try to reduce your waste as much as possible.
- Compost your food waste and recycle as much as you can.
- Buy peat-free compost – or even better, make your own.
- Ask yourself whether you really need that puppy or kitten? They are very high consumers of meat.
- Be an active citizen and campaign for the changes you want to see.
- Learn more about the natural world, and spend more time outdoors – it’s pretty amazing once you start thinking about what it does for us just by being there.