Behavioural changes required to reach net zero can be less radical than feared

New modelling suggests people won't need to give up meat or flying to hit target

Behavioural changes are vital if the world is to deliver net-zero emissions by 2050 but these might not be as revolutionary as some people might fear.

A climate-change policy road map from the Tony Blair Institute for Global Change argues for a balanced approach to carbon removal.

It says there is no single pathway to the net-zero goal and highlights the importance of technological changes which do not impinge on human behaviour, such as swapping fossil fuels for low-carbon fuels to produce electricity.

It highlights changes where use of technology affects human behaviour but not drastically, giving the example of swapping petrol and diesel cars for electric vehicles.

Its central thesis maintains that the contribution behavioural change alone will make to achieving net-zero in 2050 is "huge".

Using modelling from the Climate Change Committee, a UK-based independent advisory group, the report contrasts the effects of behavioural changes on emission reductions over the next 15 years, to the relatively minor effects behavioural changes had in the previous 10 years.

"From 2009 to 2019, 87 per cent of emission reductions were delivered through measures requiring no behaviour change – in particular the decarbonisation of our power sector," it states.

"But that proportion falls to just 41 per cent from 2020 to 2035, and emissions savings from behaviour change (either “pure” behaviour change, or via deployment and use of new technologies) rises from 13 per cent to 59 per cent."

Public perceptions of changes could prevent any behavioural shift, previous research has suggested.

In April a YouGov report found that 25 per cent of people from Britain were unwilling to alter their habits to tackle the climate crisis.

Such unwillingness would mean that the most potent weapon against climate change, the CCC says, would misfire from the start.

But the latest report suggests that people would not have to give up as much as they feared to hit net zero by 2050.

It says it will not be "necessary for everyone to stop flying", for example.

The CCC modelling says people need to reduce the average number of kilometres they fly between 2019 and 2035 by 6 per cent.

Instead of a wholesale shift to vegetarianism or veganism, CCC modelling suggests meat and dairy consumption over the next 15 years needs to be reduced by 20 per cent.

It says there is no need to stop using cars, only to reduce the average kilometres travelled per driver by 4 per cent.

The report gives a warning that there must be greater engagement with the public on the concept of net zero, and that there is "a long way to go to prepare and engage the public in the kinds of behaviour changes that will be required".

Updated: October 7th 2021, 11:59 AM