Eight things you can do to tackle climate change

Changes to travel, diet, electricity use and shopping habits may all reduce a person's carbon footprint

Electric vehicles are seen as preferable to petrol or diesel cars or SUVs. Pawan Singh / The National
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As the climate continues to get warmer and global carbon emissions grow, it is easy to feel helpless in the face of the deepening crisis.

The World Meteorological Organisation in May predicted a two-in-three chance that global average temperatures in at least one of the next five years will temporarily exceed the 1.5°C limit ratified in the 2015 Paris Agreement.

In April, average temperatures around the world were the fourth warmest for that month since records began in 1950.

While government regulations play a central role in determining carbon emissions, people can make several changes in their lives to reduce their environmental footprint.


Cutting out meat is one thing to consider as it typically has a higher carbon footprint than plant-based foods, according to Dan Eatherley, a UK-based environmental consultant and author.

A 2014 University of Oxford study published in the journal Climatic Change found that a person who ate an average amount of meat had a diet that generated the equivalent of 5.63kg of CO2 per day, compared to 3.81kg for a vegetarian and 2.89kg for a vegan.

“It is likely that reductions in meat consumption would lead to reductions in dietary greenhouse gas emissions,” the study concluded.

In its recommendations for how people can live in a more climate-friendly way, the environmental organisation WWF recommends eating a “healthy and balanced diet with a larger proportion and a wide variety of plant-based foods” and buying meat and fish only from sustainable sources. The organisation also advises cutting food waste.

Change travel habits

According to figures from the Union of Concerned Scientists, 14 per cent of an average American's carbon footprint comes from their diet, 28 per cent from transport, 32 per cent from home energy and 26 per cent from their spending.

Percentages vary from person to person and from country to country, but these figures offer some indication of the relative significance of cuts in different areas of life. So if people change how they travel and how often, the impact on carbon emissions may be greater than dietary alterations.

Travelling by plane can significantly increase a person’s annual carbon footprint.

A Dubai-to-London flight, for example, is estimated by Treedom to generate about one tonne of CO2 per passenger. Direct flights have a lower carbon footprint than indirect flights.

“Try to use public transport, try not to drive as much and don’t go on too many flights,” Mr Eatherley said.

Car-sharing is recommended by the WWF as the next-best option when public transport is unavailable, while electric vehicles are seen as preferable to petrol or diesel cars or SUVs.

Buy less and recycle more

Another piece of advice is to buy less “stuff”. Clothes, electrical goods, furniture and kitchen appliances have an environmental footprint in terms of carbon emissions and from the materials used in their production.

The UN Environment Programme says the fashion industry accounts for 8 per cent to 10 per cent of global carbon emissions – more than all international flights and maritime shipping combined.

UNEP says fast fashion – described as mass-produced clothes usually made from low-quality materials and sold for relatively low prices – has created a throwaway culture that leads to clothes quickly ending up in landfills.

Choosing recycled or second-hand goods and seeking out sustainable labels can mitigate fashion's environmental impact. Also consider using rental services for special occasions rather than buying new items that will only be worn once.

Switch off at the wall

When it comes to home energy use, switching off electrical items such as televisions and computers is an obvious point, but often forgotten.

“Vampire” electrical products on standby continue to consume energy, even at night. In the US, they account for 5 per cent to 10 per cent of residential energy use, costing the average household as much as $100 per year.

Smarter air conditioning

The WWF advises householders to use LED bulbs and to select appliances, heating systems and cooling devices with lower energy requirements.

In the UAE, air conditioning accounts for as much as 70 per cent of household electricity consumption, so using it carefully is important.

Anzala Asher, a product engineer at Taqeef – a Dubai-based air conditioning company that has produced a handbook on how to reduce AC electricity consumption – said that some people leave their air conditioning on when on holiday.

“It may be because it’s what they want to do or they want to go back to a cooler home. It has a huge impact on carbon emissions and electricity consumption,” she said.

Ms Asher recommends systems that allow householders to remotely turn their AC on and off, even when in another country.

These systems allow consumers to switch the AC back on shortly before arriving home, which is preferable to leaving it on for long periods.

Switching the target temperature up a degree or two can make an impact. Keeping the temperature at 24°C instead of 23°C, for example, can save about 10 per cent of electricity consumption.

Inverter air conditioners, which adjust the speed of the compressor motor in response to need, tend to be more expensive, but Ms Asher said that they use 30 per cent to 40 per cent less electricity.

Short of buying a new air conditioner, consumers are advised to maintain their current system regularly to cut electricity use. A clogged filter, for example, can cause power demand to spike.

Ms Asher advises having a service twice a year and at the very least before each summer.

Tell others

The UNEP suggests speaking to friends, family and coworkers about reducing their carbon footprint is another important step.

Count Us In, a global community of people and organisations that encourages others to take active, reasonable steps to lower their carbon footprints, says that if one billion people took action, they could reduce global carbon emissions by as much as 20 per cent.

Plant trees

Every year, about 12 million hectares of forest are destroyed, according to the UNEP.

Deforestation, along with agriculture and other land use changes, is responsible for about 25 per cent of global greenhouse gas emissions.

The UAE has started planting the first of the 100 million mangroves it plans to plant by 2030. Once finished, the forests will capture about 115,000 tonnes of CO2 a year.

Fewer children?

Aside from the many small steps each person can take to reduce their environmental impact, some make the big decision to have fewer children.

“Some young people say they’re not going to start a family in part to reduce their impact on the planet but also because they feel it’s unfair to bring children into a world faced with the climate crisis,” Mr Eatherley. said.

“Going on so-called birth strike is becoming a bit of a phenomenon.”

Updated: June 10, 2023, 6:56 AM