Westerners urged to reduce carbon footprint

Top UK climate scientist says global carbon emissions could be cut by a third within a year if well-off westerners changed their lifestyle.

Global carbon emissions could be cut by one-third within 12 months if affluent westerners changed their way of life, claims a leading climate change scientist.

Kevin Anderson, professor of energy and climate change at Manchester University, in the UK, says a major reduction in personal air travel is a key starting point.

More than half of the carbon dioxide pollution that causes a large part of global warming comes from the 10 per cent best-off people on the planet, he argues.

Carbon footprint

“Let’s be clear about this. If the top 10 high emitters – people like you and me and others – if we reduce our carbon footprint just to the level of the average European, it would be a one-third cut in global emissions”.

“I genuinely think we could achieve it in one year, but we would have to think that climate change is a very serious issue, and that has big political implications.”

Anderson, who already avoids flying when he can, made his comments in the run-up to a talk he will give on 9 March at Cambridge University in the UK.

Let’s be clear about this. If the top 10 high emitters – people like you and me and others – if we reduce our carbon footprint just to the level of the average European, it would be a one-third cut in global emissions.

Kevin Anderson, professor of energy and climate change, Manchester University

This is part of the Cambridge Climate Lecture Series, a new town-and-gown initiative, shared between the university and the city and designed to rekindle debate on global warming.

Anderson is convinced that wealthy westerners must act decisively and radically to change their lifestyles.

“Those of us who are high emitters …. need to rapidly curtail how often we fly. We should not be flying on any occasion business class or first class because that has far higher emissions. We need to find alternatives to flying”.

“But in addition we need to make sure that we are not living in larger houses and have many houses, and drive larger cars”. 

“Our high incomes allow us to have status in society and typically have larger carbon footprints. It is a real challenge for us in that position, because we have to significantly change our lives in the short term and find other ways of seeing value for hard work.”

UK commitment

Anderson plans to use his talk to explain what kind of personal, societal and corporate changes need to be made in Britain to meet the UK government’s commitment under the Paris climate change agreement.

He said during the Paris negotiations that he thought there was only a slim chance – less than 10 per cent – that the world could manage to stop temperatures rising by more than 1.5°C over their pre-industrial level. This week the World Meteorological Organisation confirmed that they are already about 1.1°C higher than before the Industrial Revolution.

The Manchester academic will argue for steps to be taken to allow for a rapid reduction in energy demand alongside a ramping up of low-carbon power generation.

Other speakers in the series include Baroness Bryony Worthington, an architect of the UK’s 2008 Climate Change Act and founder of Sandbag, and Anthony Hobley, chief executive of the Carbon Tracker Initiative, a not-for-profit financial thinktank.

The meetings will be chaired by Emily Shuckburgh, deputy head of polar oceans at the British Antarctic Survey and the co-author of a forthcoming book, Climate Change.

This story was published with permission from Climate News Network.

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