This article is an extract from our new Good Guide to Net Zero, which explains what net zero actually is, how it affects you, and how you can apply the concept to your own life and finances. In partnership with Triodos Bank, Ecology Building Society, Nest pensions, Ethex and Make My Money Matter.
Despite what Donald Trump would say, climate change has been big news since the 80s. But in case anyone was still in doubt, the extreme weather seen over recent years punctuates this debate rather neatly. The scientific evidence that we are facing a climate emergency is clear.
In 2008, the UK passed the Climate Change Act, committing us to an 80 per cent reduction of greenhouse gas emissions by 2050, compared to 1990 levels. The amended Act, passed in 2019, committed the UK – the first major economy to do so – to a 100 per cent reduction (net zero) by 2050.
What does ‘net zero’ even mean?
Net zero literally means achieving a balance between the amount of greenhouse gas – largely carbon – emitted into the atmosphere, and the amount removed from it. This balance – or net zero – will happen when the amount of carbon we add to the atmosphere is no more than the amount removed.
In order for us to reach net zero, we desperately need to reduce carbon emissions from homes, transport, agriculture and industry more broadly. However, for other sectors, such as air travel, it is simply too complex and expensive a target.
So as well as reducing emissions, the UK also needs to find ways to remove any residual emissions. This element has given rise to new ways of thinking about how the environment can absorb greater amounts of CO2, as well as the development of new technologies to extract, capture and store carbon.
How can individuals help towards net zero?
With net zero now a global target, it’s no longer only government scientists and big business wondering whether and how we can meet it. Individuals, too, are questioning what role they have to play in meeting this aim.
So how are we doing so far? Well, you’ll be pleased to know that according to government figures released in March 2021, our UK emissions in 2020 had reduced by almost 50 per cent from 1990 levels.1 However, a large portion of this reduction can be attributed to the impact on travel and business activity of the COVID-19 pandemic.
With those figures showing clearly the impact of lifestyle changes on the nation’s ability to reach net zero, now is the time for each of us to ask ourselves what role we personally can play in helping to make it happen.
Much of the current net zero dialogue centres around national and global policy- driven changes. But it is possible for individuals to have an impact through changes across many areas of our lives, from our home life, to where and how we travel and, of course, how we spend and save our money.
Which is where our Good Guide to Net Zero comes in.
Calling out a lack of action
According to government climate advisers, The Committee on Climate Change, three-fifths of the measures required to achieve net zero in the UK will require at least some degree of consumer behavioural and social change, such as switching to electric cars, or home heat pumps. More broadly, the UK needs to shift its mindset to accept large-scale low-carbon infrastructure and start taking more political action which calls out the lack of action from business and government.
There are easy steps we can all take to help these changes happen more quickly. In our guide, we speak to Ecology Building Society, Triodos Bank, Nest pensions and Ethex, among others, about the consumer path to net zero.
How to net zero your home
Ecology Building Society, which provides mortgages for sustainable buildings, explains how to net zero your home. According to the CCC, a massive 40 per cent of the country’s emissions come from our homes. It’s not an easy time to switch at the moment, as many small, cheaper suppliers disappear, but there are still good, green energy tariffs on the market. You can also get a smart meter installed to reduce your energy use. But what else can you do?
Energy efficiency measures can be expensive, so what you do will depend on what you can afford. Over the coming years, we can expect a growing number of home heat pumps and indeed the government plans to install 5.5 million heat pumps in British homes by 2030.
Heat pumps run constantly at a lower temperature, so work best when homes are energy efficient. To prepare your homes for the heat pump revolution, start by insulating your home as much as possible – check you have enough loft, wall and floor insulation, and go for double or even triple glazing if you are considering replacing your windows.
What does net zero mean for your money?
We speak to Triodos Bank about what ‘net zero’ actually means for banks. We speak to Nest about the power of your pension to help fight climate change. We speak to Ethex about how community power can drive the national agenda in helping meet the country’s low carbon goals.
When it comes to net zero and your money, the most powerful tool in your arsenal is actually your pension. According to campaigners Make My Money Matter, switching to a green pension is 21x more powerful than switching to a green energy supplier, giving up air travel and becoming a vegetarian combined!
Checking how climate-friendly your pension is
You can check to see whether your existing workplace or personal pension is green with our new climate-friendly pensions comparison tool, Isitgreen. If you are not sure what your pension is invested in, you can check your workplace pension directly and what it is invested in by logging in to your account online, or your provider’s app.
How to live more sustainably
Of course, it’s not only when we’re trying to save money that we should aim for low carbon. If you don’t have much spare cash, and are unable to do anything with your bank account or old workplace pensions, then choosing more sustainable products in the shops is powerful, too. For example:
- Going vegan for two-thirds of meals could cut food-related carbon emissions by 60 per cent
- Buying from zero waste stores is a one-stop way to avoid plastic
- If you have leftover food, use apps like Olio to share it locally
- Swap to bamboo and other organic and sustainable materials when you buy clothes, or simply don’t buy new – there is a great clothing brand checker here
- Use the Ecosia search engine instead of Google