House of Lords Committee Calls for Living a 1.5 Degree Lifestyle

Personal behavior changes could cut carbon emissions by as much as 63%. So turn out the lights!

Is this journey really necessary?
Is this journey really necessary? Or do we have to travel less?.

Hulton Archive, 1943

As noted in a recent post, the Prime Minister of the U.K., Liz Truss, is not a fan of nanny-statism. She recently told her Conservative party members, “I’m not going to tell you how to live your life.” The minister in charge of climate change said, “We’re not a nanny state government.” They clearly hadn't read the new report produced by the House of Lords Environment and Climate Change Committee (CCC), titled "In our hands: behaviour change for climate and environmental goals," which takes nanny-stateism in Britain to a level not seen since the Second World War. Baroness Parmenter, chair of the committee, says in a statement:

"After a summer of record temperatures, fires and hose pipe bans, it has never been more apparent that the twin crises of climate change and nature loss demand an immediate and sustained response. People power is critical to reach our environmental goals, but unless we are encouraged and enabled to change behaviours in how we travel, what we eat and buy and how we heat our homes, we won’t meet those targets."

While Prime Minister Truss canceled a major public information campaign, the CCC explicitly calls for "a public engagement campaign to build support for helping people to adopt new technologies and reduce carbon-intensive consumption in the key areas where behaviour change is required."

lifestyle consumption footprints

Lord's Report, adapted from Akenji et al 2021

The report says many of the things we have written about on Treehugger about low-carbon living. It even includes a chart from the "1.5 Degree Lifestyles: Toward a fair consumption space for all" report from the Hot or Cool Institute, and notes the targets I used as the basis of my book, "Living the 1.5 Degree Lifestyle." The committee writes: "Dr. Viktoria Spaiser and Professor Cristina Leston-Bandeiras, both at the University of Leeds, pointed to the gap between estimates of the current average U.K. individual lifestyle carbon footprint, 8.5 tonnes CO2 per year, and footprints consistent with emissions reduction targets for 2030 (2.5 tonnes) and 2050 (0.7 tonnes)."

Many believe that technology can save us, but the Lords are not so sure: "We found that we cannot rely on large-scale and unproven technologies alone to achieve the transition to net zero. Behaviour change is also needed. We have worked with the CCC to calculate that 32% of emissions reductions up to 2035 rely on decisions by individuals and households, while 63% relies on the involvement of the public in some form." This is a lower number than the 1.5-degree studies used, which assumed that 72% relied on public choices, but that was a global average.

Switch out the light poster

National Archives UK

The report also recognizes the different aspects of our lives, the categories where behavior changes can make the biggest difference. Selected key messages:

  • Behavior change is essential for achieving climate and environment goals, and for delivering wider benefits. 
  • The government’s current approach to enabling behavior change to meet climate and environment goals is inadequate to meet the scale of the challenge. 
  • Priority behavior change policies are needed in the areas of travel, heating, diet, and consumption to enable the public to adopt and use green technologies and products and reduce carbon-intensive consumption.
  • Information is not enough to change behavior; the government needs to play a stronger role in shaping the environment in which the public acts, through appropriately sequenced measures including regulation, taxation, and development of infrastructure.
  • Fairness is key to effective behavior change.
  • Businesses have a critical role to play in enabling behavior change through increasing the affordability and availability of greener products and services, and engaging customers and employees. 
  • Government should learn from examples of where it has effectively enabled behavior change, including during the COVID-19 pandemic, as well as from past failures.
Is your journey really necessary
Cut back on travel!.

National Archives

 The CCC heard dozens of witnesses who called for personal behavior changes, more walking and cycling, eating less meat, cutting back on flying; it could have been pieced together from Treehugger posts. 

"The Government should focus as a priority on enabling the most impactful behaviour changes that will be needed to meet climate and environmental goals including: adopting ultra-low emission vehicles; installing home insulation and low-carbon heating technologies; taking fewer long-haul flights; changing of diets; and generally reducing carbon and resource-intensive consumption and waste."

But it is the rich who have the biggest footprints and have to make the bigger changes. "Witnesses were clear that the U.K.’s path to net zero should be a fair one. Everyone will need to make some changes, but higher income households which typically have a larger carbon footprint must take correspondingly larger steps to reduce their emissions."

Notwithstanding the fights in the U.K. over every low-traffic neighborhood (LTN) and bike lane, there have to be more of them. "Transport, including personal travel, makes the largest contribution to emissions. We welcome the Government’s focus on the rollout of low-emissions vehicles—including through phasing out the sale of new petrol and diesel cars—and its efforts to improve active travel infrastructure and local public transport systems. It is critical that these efforts deliver easier, safer and more accessible walking and cycling routes and remove barriers to public transport use if we are to achieve the behaviour change in travel needed to meet the U.K.’s climate and environmental goals."

 Change in diet will be necessary due to the carbon footprint of beef and lamb. "Alongside a partial reduction in meat and dairy consumption, a shift towards certain types of meat, including pasture fed meat, dairy and other foods produced by sustainable production methods would contribute to achieving climate and environmental goals."

There has to be a massive investment in insulation and heatpumpification, especially for households affected by the cost-of-living crisis. "The Government should coordinate a national drive to improve the energy efficiency of our homes, including by amending the Energy Security Bill to introduce a support package to help households with installation costs."

They even have a nod to upfront carbon, noting that "the Government should accelerate the development of low carbon product standards. The Government’s work on Extended Producer Responsibility is welcome and could support less resource-intensive consumption." 

Don't be Fuel-ish

Jim Bateman/ National Archives

There are many who still believe that personal actions don't matter and it is all a plot by the oil companies to shift responsibility from them to the public, and that 100 companies are responsible for 71% of emissions, so anything we do is irrelevant. But as I continue to say, we cannot keep buying what they are selling. As the Lords note, when we stopped buying during the pandemic, things changed. "The COVID-19 pandemic and restrictions put in place to curb the spread of the virus brought about huge changes to everyday life across the population. The individual’s choice environment was changed, and people had to form new habits and routines to adapt to the changing circumstances."

We stopped buying stuff and oil companies in the U.S. went bankrupt. Other major companies like airlines went bust or had to be bailed out. This was behavior change in action; we stopped buying what they were selling. It was a concrete example of what a difference behavior change makes.

The latest IPCC report said much the same thing as we 1.5-degree lifestyle evangelists, noting that we have to deal with the demand-side strategies and consume less. "By 2050, comprehensive demand-side strategies across all sectors could reduce CO2 and non-CO2 GHG emissions globally by 40–70% compared to the 2050 emissions projection of two scenarios consistent with policies announced by national governments until 2020." As climate journalist, Amy Westervelt wrote in the Guardian, "The report made one thing abundantly clear: the technologies and policies necessary to adequately address climate change exist, and the only real obstacles are politics and fossil fuel interests."

The previous Prime Minister, Boris Johnson, was known for being a proponent of what was called "cakeism," that when it comes to cake, he is "pro having it and pro eating it too." Liz Truss has apparently inherited his cakeism, but the House of Lords Environment and Climate Change Committee is calling for a big dose of nanny-stateism. Once again, the only real obstacles are politics and fossil fuel interests. But we really should be listening to the Lords.

View Article Sources
  1. Hertwich, Edgar G., and Glen P. Peters. "Carbon Footprint of Nations: A Global, Trade-Linked Analysis." Environmental Science &Amp; Technology, vol. 43, no. 16, 2009, pp. 6414-6420., doi:10.1021/es803496a

  2. "CDP Carbon Majors Report 2017." CDP.