Sky-high flight prices and a ban on your boiler: what the UK’s steep emissions targets might mean for you

Emma Gatten
·4 min read
Climate change cartoon
Climate change cartoon

The Government has committed to cutting its greenhouse gas emissions 78 per cent by 2035, compared to 1990 levels. That has implications for how we travel, what we eat, and how we heat our homes.

The legally binding pledge puts the UK at the forefront of emissions targets among leading economies, and comes ahead of a climate summit hosted by US President Joe Biden on Thursday.

It means a 58 per cent cut over the next 15 years, according to analysis by the website Carbon Brief, and will require changes to the way we heat our homes and travel, and what we eat.

For the first time, the UK will also include emissions from international aviation, which could cause a rise in air fares.

Here's how the target might be met.

Flying

The latest targets include international aviation for the first time, which counts for 7 per cent of the UK's total emissions. The Government's advisory body, the Climate Change Committee, has suggested raising the costs of flying with a frequent flyer tax, or higher Air Passenger Duty.

The CCC is also hoping for a reduction in demand in the wake of Covid-19, particularly in business travel. Andrea Leadsom, the former business secretary, said on Tuesday that the pandemic might have changed attitudes to travel among "many of our men who have a nice wife at home" and who have "discovered what it is to juggle the kids and Zoom and getting dinner on the table".

Home heating

The Government has set a target for all homes to be EPC C by 2035, requiring retrofitting for two thirds of properties.

The CCC also wants all homes on the market to achieve EPC C by 2028, potentially making it difficult to secure a mortgage for those properties that do not meet the target. Retrofitting costs could average £18,000, according to the Environmental Audit Committee, with older homes more difficult to tackle.

Replacement gas boilers are likely to be banned from the mid-2030s.

Heat pumps are the most likely alternative in most homes, but they do not suit blocks of flats and require space for a water tank. Other options might be district heating systems or, in some areas, hydrogen, though the technology at scale is untested and could prove expensive.

Shipping

Shipping will also be included in the UK's emissions targets for the first time, and currently accounts for around 3 per cent of the total.

Globally, if shipping were a country, it would be the sixth largest in the world in terms of emissions.

There is no straightforward plan to decarbonise shipping, but solutions focus on switching the fuel to a low-carbon alternative, possibly hydrogen.

Diet

In announcing new targets, the Government emphasised that it would maintain "people's freedom of choice, including on their diet".

That appears to put them at odds with their advisers, who have said there will need to be a 35 per cent reduction in meat and dairy consumption by 2050, to reduce methane emissions. That will also free up some land to meet the CCC's target of planting 50,000 hectares of trees a year between 2035 and 2050.

But officials might be relying on natural shifts in diet, including rapidly growing demand for plant-based versions, and the potential for lab- grown meats in coming years.

Cars

The electric car revolution is well under way, with the Government banning the sale of new petrol and diesel cars by 2030. The CCC wants 43 per cent of all cars on the road to be electric by 2030.

Among the challenges to getting everyone to go electric will be ensuring there are sufficient and accessible charging points, and making sure the National Grid is equipped to deal with a higher level of demand.

Those without off-street parking also face significantly higher costs for charging at public charging points.

The upfront costs of electric cars remain prohibitive for many, although overall running costs often work out lower and the CCC expects them to reach cost parity by 2030.

How will you be affected by the Government's commitment to cut greenhouse gas emissions? Tell us in the comments section below