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How will the shift to a net zero world change our lives?

Home heating, transport, diets, jobs and finances could all be affected as the UK seeks to transform its economy to address climate change.

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A cyclist crosses a bridge in Bristol (Ben Birchall/PA)

A cyclist crosses a bridge in Bristol (Ben Birchall/PA)

A cyclist crosses a bridge in Bristol (Ben Birchall/PA)

Changes are coming for the way everybody lives their lives as we seek to cut the greenhouse gas emissions that are driving dangerous climate change.

Climate advisers do not think people’s lives will be that different – we will still be flying, eating meat, warming our homes and going to our jobs in the coming decades – but change is required, they warn.

So what are the changes you will see in your life?

Homes:

One of the main things that will change is the way we heat our homes, moving away from gas and other fossil fuels for heating and hot water – as well as cooking.

For many people that will mean a switch from a boiler to a heat pump, installed in individual houses and powered by electricity, working a bit like a fridge in reverse to generate heat from the outside air, or sometimes the ground.

In cities, district heat networks, which pipe hot water underground to bring heat to homes from a central source, such as the energy from a waste plant, rivers, or even former mines, to heat exchangers instead of boilers in individual homes could be the answer.

And in some places, where hydrogen is being manufactured as a clean alternative to fossil fuels for industry, HGVs and other uses, it could be put through the gas pipe network to heat nearby homes with compatible new boilers.

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The environmentally friendly house of the future (PA Graphics)

The environmentally friendly house of the future (PA Graphics)

Press Association Images

The environmentally friendly house of the future (PA Graphics)

All heating technologies are more efficient at heating a home – and reducing energy demand and bills – if homes are well insulated.

So campaigners have called for a major energy efficiency programme to make houses much cosier than today, with double or triple glazing, draught proofing and high levels of loft and wall insulation.

Travel:

Transport is currently the biggest single source of emissions, so those will have to be tackled, and a key way to do that is switching from petrol and diesel cars to electric vehicles.

By the 2030s, new cars will all be electric, and if you have off-street parking, you will be able to charge your car on your front drive rather than having to refuel at a petrol station.

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A car is plugged into a public charging point (PA)

A car is plugged into a public charging point (PA)

PA

A car is plugged into a public charging point (PA)

But while the range – the number of miles a car can do on a single charge – is increasing, the infrastructure to allow people to charge up on long journeys or on the street will need to improve.

And it’s not just about switching the type of vehicle you drive.

Part of the picture will be cutting the number of journeys taken by car and increasing the number of people in a vehicle, as well as ensuring more walking and cycling and better provision for both.

That will make towns and cities less polluted and more liveable, while people could be healthier because they are getting more exercise.

Projections by the independent advisory Climate Change Committee do not include a cut in flying, but instead a reduction in the growth in demand for flights, and the Government is pushing development of more sustainable fuels.

But the Climate Assembly – a group of more than 100 citizens from around the country convened by Parliament to discuss how we cut our emissions to zero – did support some kind of frequent flyer levy to charge the small proportion of people who take lots of flights.

The changes in working, such as more video conferencing, brought on by the pandemic, could be here to stay, cutting business travel and commuting.

Diets:

The Climate Change Committee says we should be eating a fifth less meat by 2030. As well as cutting emissions from livestock, the move will free up land to grow energy crops or create forests that soak up excess carbon emissions and provide habitat for wildlife which is also in crisis.

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Potential changes to diets could be on the cards (Danny Lawson/PA)

Potential changes to diets could be on the cards (Danny Lawson/PA)

PA

Potential changes to diets could be on the cards (Danny Lawson/PA)

The Government has said it will not tell people what to eat as part of its efforts to reach net zero, working with the “grain of consumer choice”, although it does see a slight reduction in line with current trends.

The committee says its recommendations for curbing meat consumption are well within the Government’s own guidelines for healthy eating.

Jobs:

This is another key area where things are going to change for some people, as jobs in high-carbon industries go and green jobs are created instead.

This could include jobs in sectors such as manufacturing electric cars, and zero-carbon steel, boiler fitters retraining as heat pump engineers, or workers in the offshore oil and gas industry taking new jobs in the offshore wind sector.

But that means there must be support, retraining and reskilling for workers in high-carbon sectors so they are not left behind in the move to a green economy.

Costs:

How much all of this will cost for individuals and families is a big question, with the Treasury warning that the costs – and the benefits – will not fall equally among households, and policies will be needed to reduce the costs and spread the burden fairly.

Some new technologies are significantly more expensive, such as heat pumps, prompting the Government to bring in grants to reduce the costs, but the hope is prices will fall as markets scale up.

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