What does a net zero target mean for households?

If we are to make progress to achieve net zero carbon emissions, many aspects of our day to day lives will have to change, as we adopt low carbon energy technologies and make life-style changes. Analysis by Energy Systems Catapult for the Committee on Climate Change explored what it means to cut carbon emissions in UK households by 80%, >90% and 100% (Net Zero) compared to the 1990 level, across six activities: heating, transport, electricity, aviation, diet and waste. Their report Living Carbon Free explores the role of households in a net-zero emissions society to accompany the Committee for Climate Change’s Net Zero report.

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Heat decarbonisation will require improvements to the fabric of our homes and adoption of low carbon heating systems such as heat pumps, district heating and hydrogen boilers. Smart control systems can ensure these solutions provide the experience households want, while local area planning will be essential to ensure a joined-up approach and avoid unnecessary cost.

Transport emissions can be reduced firstly by reducing overall distances travelled (e.g. through flexible working or working from home). Shifting to more sustainable modes of transport like buses and trains, or walking and cycling, would reduce energy use by private cars (and ease congestion and improve air quality). Making more efficient use of cars would help too, (e.g. carsharing, smaller cars). Finally, switching to electric (and potentially hydrogen) vehicles will be essential for net zero.

Electricity use for lighting and appliances (and heat and transport) will have to be fully decarbonised. That will require national solutions like large-scale renewables, nuclear, or gas with carbon capture and storage (CCS). But there will also be significant opportunities for households to participate and provide flexibility to the grid, e.g. through micro-generation and energy storage technologies, or smart appliances that offer demand side response as part of a future smart grid.

Aviation emissions have been steadily increasing over recent decades. Airlines can help curb emissions through more efficient aircraft and flight management, and accelerating deployment of advanced technologies like hybrid electric planes. Households can contribute by thinking more carefully and cutting back on our growing demand for air travel.

Diet change can help reduce emissions from agriculture, in addition to ‘upstream’ changes like improved farming practices. Reducing our meat and dairy consumption can have a particularly large impact due to the high global warming effect of the methane emissions involved.

Waste reduction, including food waste, can also help to avoid emissions arising from landfill.

 

Many of the actions would have additional benefits such as reduced congestion, improved air quality, expansion of green spaces and improved physical and mental health.

But even a net zero scenario will still include some remaining household emissions, e.g. in diet and aviation. Negative emissions (removing carbon from the atmosphere) will therefore be required.

On this website, we aim to bring you locally tailored information on opportunities and challenges to help us all to contribute to achieving the net zero target.