Can a former climate change sceptic lead the UK towards zero emissions? I am referring to our Prime Minister who, even in 2015, was writing articles denying climate change. This was the time when more serious politicians gathered in Paris to reach what became known as the Paris Climate Agreement.
Progress, after the Paris Agreement, was hampered by the election in the US of a populist leader. Donald Trump withdrew the US from the Paris agreement and the US effectively abdicated from its traditional leadership role.
Boris Johnson claims that he has become a supporter of climate change policies and that we can halt climate change without significant costs or any changes to our lifestyles. This is misleading.
Stopping global warming is very expensive. Richer countries, like the UK, are expected to pay not just for their own changes but also to help poorer nations to change and adapt. Previous financial commitments to poorer countries have not been met.
We will all pay indirectly, as more of the tax revenue is allocated to climate change mitigation, but there will also be direct costs. For instance, many of us have gas hobs that will be phased out starting in 2025. Electric inductions hobs are more expensive to buy and to run, as electricity is still significantly more expensive than gas.
Gas boilers will also be phased out starting in 2035. The main alternative is an air source heat pump, which is energy efficient and could be carbon neutral (no carbon emissions), provided that the electricity was generated only by renewable sources.
The downsides of heat pumps are not just the higher installation costs. Heat pumps may need larger radiators or underfloor heating and may be adequate only in well-insulated homes. Regardless of when we replace our gas boiler, we need to start improving the insulation of our homes now.
In order to reduce my own carbon footprint, I have put together a list of home improvements. Some are inexpensive DIY jobs, such as insulating my loft hatch or draught-proofing some doors. However, many of the home improvements are expensive or best done by professionals: I am phasing these over a few years.
It is not just about improving cavity wall or roof insulation, though these are the main sources of heat loss. If we intend to change a floor surface, it makes sense to take the opportunity to increase the floor insulation. A planned replacement of external doors or windows is an opportunity to choose new ones with a better U value, which is the measurement of how much heat is lost.
My to-do list includes dealing with the heat loss from an unused fireplace and fitting better boiler controls, as leaving the central heating on all the time at the same temperature it is not energy efficient.
Tackling climate change is not just about energy use, we also need to look at our personal behaviour. Meat from ruminants (cattle and sheep) causes more climate change gas emissions than poultry meat and much more than plant-based foods. Air flights make a rising contribution to climate change: mile for mile, flying is the most damaging way to travel.
A recent report commissioned by the Department for Businesses, Energy and Industrial Strategy described how the UK government could influence behaviour to reduce flying or eating ruminant meat.
However, our government has rejected this advice and has removed this document from its website. This is in keeping with Boris Johnson’s style: making promises that he does not intend to fulfil or for which he will not provide the means of implementation.
Should we have a personal carbon allowance with an app or a website calculator monitoring whether we are exceeding our emission quota? If used as a guidance tool, it would make us more aware of how we could compensate increased emissions in one area, say travel, with reduced emissions related to heating or food or consumers goods or carbon dioxide removal.
It will be very difficult to limit global warming unless most of us, across the globe, contribute to the effort.