Letter: Our habits must change to deliver on PM’s climate targets

08 December 2020

The commitment by Boris Johnson, the prime minister, to reduce our carbon emissions from 57 per cent of 1990s levels today to 32 per cent by 2030 is fantastic news (“PM aims to lead way on emissions cuts”, Report, December 4). This is in line with climate science, our international posture and our legal commitment to zero emissions by 2050. Now we need to deliver it. To do so we need three components that have been missing in our climate actions to date. First, a delivery authority, which like that for the London Olympics, has the reach and authority to deliver the commitment on time, embedding it in every government decision on tax, spending, regulation and influence. Second, a recognition that this commitment must be delivered with technologies which are already at commercial maturity today. It took more than a decade to complete the second Forth Road Bridge, and Hinkley Point C will take much longer. We should develop and evaluate all possible new energy infrastructure technologies for the future, but accept that none will operate at significant scale in the next decade. The commitment must and can be delivered by wind and solar generation combined with electric heat pumps, building insulation, smaller electric cars, buses, trucks and railways, extensive high-quality recycling and a parallel reduction in our use of ruminants, aeroplanes, ships, cement, blast-furnace steel, new glass and plastics. Third, this involves us all. The pretence that climate change can be mitigated without societal participation is now blown, and some of the required actions — flying less, dietary choice, preferred modes of transport, using less hot water, retrofitting houses and offices — depend on us taking a journey together. Every public communication from the government and the knowledge organisations that support it should reflect and embrace this reality while confirming that almost all of the activities that we most value and enjoy can continue and expand as we act to secure a safe future. The government’s announcement could be life-saving, if we deliver on it. Professor Julian Allwood Professor of Engineering and the Environment, Department of Engineering, University of Cambridge, Cambridge, UK