As vaccines roll out slowly, the whole world hopes to see an economic rebound this year. We tend to agree that we cannot get back to the business-as-usual scenario and recovery from the pandemic must lead to a different world economy, that is more resilient in face of future challenges. Looking beyond the current crisis, the road ahead will continue to be tough as the world is way off track in dealing with the climate emergency and there is no vaccine for the planet.
As we are still at the beginning of the new year – and a crucial point of taking responsibility for our actions – now is the time to take stock and think about how we might do things differently in the upcoming eleven months and build a credible path complying with our net-zero ambitions.
Action must come at all levels of society. Going forwards with a greater ambition to reduce emissions to net-zero there is an urgent need for the public, as citizens and consumers, to have a much larger role. There are already some promising signs as the climate movement is gaining momentum, surveys show that people’s attitudes and views on climate change are changing. This year’s Climate Survey released by the European Investment Bank (EIB) shows that around 72 per cent of Europeans believe their own behaviour can make a difference in tackling climate change. However, only 19 per cent of them are actually making radical lifestyle changes to fight climate change.
That being said, here are 5 (+1) ideas that would help you to live a more environmentally conscious life in 2021.
Travel sustainably, fly less
The transport sector contributes to 27 per cent of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions in the EU. International aviation represents a very significant share of these emissions. Furthermore, it experienced the largest percentage growth in the past decade, which is expected to further increase according to all estimates. On a global level, civil aviation, including both passenger and cargo flights, accounts for 2 per cent of annual global GHG emissions, which comes from only the 5 per cent of the global population who can afford to fly. The Swedish flygskam (flight shame) movement gained momentum before the outbreak of the virus to urge people to give up flying and choose a more environmentally friendly way of travelling. If you want to measure the carbon footprint of your flight and compare it with alternative modes of transport you can do it by a few clicks on the EcoPassenger calculator – initiated by the International Railways Union in cooperation with the European Environment Agency – which is a useful tool to travellers who wish to become more aware of the impact of their journey by comparing the emissions of taking a flight, a train or a car trip to the given destination.
Reduce your waste and recycle
Waste generation has increased massively around the world in recent decades, posing a serious risk to ecosystems and human health and there are no signs of it slowing down. Every year, an estimated 11.2 billion tonnes of solid waste is collected worldwide and decay of the organic proportion of solid waste is contributing about 5 per cent of global GHG emissions. The amount of waste generated in the EU is also growing, now standing at around 3 billion tonnes a year. The solution, in the first place, is the minimisation of waste. Where waste cannot be avoided, we should opt for recycling waste into usable products. The good news is that with some small changes we could all make a difference. For instance, by embracing the zero-waste lifestyle, that starts with purchasing decisions, proper planning and setting up a system for what and how materials enter our homes in the first place. Bulk-buying is an essential component of a zero-waste lifestyle. Not only you can get to eat healthier food and save money, but you can generate less waste and live a more sustainable life at the same time. Recycling is a crucial element of conscious consumption as it saves tremendous energy and reduces emissions. Recycling one aluminium can saves 90 per cent of the energy needed to produce a new one while recycling one kilogram of paper instead of landfilling it avoids almost one kilogram of CO2 emissions, as well as methane emissions.
Switch to a more sustainable diet
According to the World Economic Forum, the challenge of meeting the protein needs of a mid-century population of 10 billion people in an inclusive, sustainable, healthy and nutritious manner is enormous but achievable. What is clear is that this will not happen on our current, business-as-usual trajectory. Today’s food supply chain creates around 13.7 billion metric tons of carbon dioxide equivalents (CO2eq), 26 per cent of anthropogenic GHG emissions. Various studies show that a well-balanced and predominantly plant-based diet can lead to improved nutrient levels, reduce premature deaths from chronic diseases and lower greenhouse gas emissions while also leading to reductions in cropland use and freshwater use. A recent survey of the European Consumer Organisation shows the although consumers are already changing their habits towards more sustainable diets, for instance by reducing their red meat intake and buying more organic food, they tend to underestimate the impact of their own eating habits, with on average 63.6 per cent disagreeing that their food habits have negative effects on the environment. That is far from the truth as a high-meat diet (over 100 grams/day – roughly two sausages or one beef burger) produces 2,5 times more GHG emissions than a vegan equivalent. Want to know the carbon footprint of your diet? You can find it out using this simple calculator.
Use less energy at home
Achieving our net-zero ambitions will require the decarbonisation of domestic heating and cooling. Households generate roughly a quarter of all direct CO2 emissions produced in the EU today and three-quarters of the energy used by homes across the EU is for heating and cooling. The greatest potential for emissions reductions is the uptake of low-carbon heating systems and building refurbishment to improve thermal performance. The EU’s Renovation Wave strategy is intended to be a centrepiece of this aiming to renovate 35 million buildings by 2030. However, by taking small steps at home, you can also save energy and money while helping to protect the climate and reducing emissions. For instance, you can ask your energy supplier about installing a smart meter for gas and electricity, that could monitor your energy consumption and save on the bills. Switch off your devices, like smart TVs, printers and games consoles if you don’t use them as they can consume up to 80 watts of electricity when on standby mode. Buying energy-efficient appliances is also a good start. In the EU, many everyday products such as fridges, dishwashers and ovens carry an EU energy label to help you choose an energy-efficient model. You can find more tips on how to run a sustainable household here.
Rethink your wardrobe
Take a look in your wardrobe. How many pieces do you own? And how many of them you actually wear. It’s high time to rethink our shopping habits in face of enormous environmental pollution of the fashion industry, that produces 10 per cent of all humanity’s carbon emissions and is the second-largest consumer of the world’s water supply. Washing clothes releases 500,000 tons of microfibres into the ocean each year. It’s a vicious circle: brands produce more clothing lines every year because of the growing demand. Luckily, it’s not impossible to break this cycle, here are some tips to become more mindful of your wardrobe choices. A quite radical but definitely effective (even budget-friendly) solution is to embrace minimalism by reducing the number of clothes we own. If you find it close to impossible to resist the impulse to go shopping, you could still pay more attention to where and how these clothes are being made and opt for sustainable and eco-friendly brands. As more consumers are becoming mindful of their purchase and seeking awareness of where their clothes come from, apparel companies are pressured to change their operating practices or business models to improve transparency about their manufacturing process and standards.
Changing consumer patterns and transforming our everyday lives for the benefit of our planet has great importance. However, raising ambitions and designing innovative and forward-looking policy actions will be crucial to meet our climate goals. As a citizen seeking information, raising awareness and using your voting power gives you the chance to make your voice heard and to be part of the change.