What can I do to help stop climate change? How to reduce your carbon footprint to help slow global warming

COP26 in Glasgow has seen world leaders make some major commitments. But with concerns about climate change increasing, what can you do to help?

But climate activist Greta Thunberg has said the amount of change we can expect from the event is unlikely to be enough to turn the tide of the climate crisis.

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And with the Prime Minister Boris Johnson and Sir David Attenborough both warning that an environmental doomsday scenario is fast-approaching, you might be feeling concerned about the world’s plight.

So is there anything you can do to slow down climate change?

Here are some tips on how to slash your carbon footprint.

World leaders like Joe Biden and Boris Johnson have made major commitments at COP26, but activists say more action is still needed to combat climate change effectively (image: Getty Images)

Can my own actions make a difference?

First off, you might be wondering whether your own individual actions can bring about the level of change required to slow the progress of climate change.

The answer is not a definitive ‘yes’, but it isn’t a ‘no’ either.

According to the United Nations, “bold, fast, and wide-ranging action” needs to be taken urgently by governments and businesses, as they hold much of the power to act.

But under its ‘Act Now’ campaign, the UN says the transition to a low-carbon world also requires the participation of citizens – especially those who live in advanced economies.

The organisation’s figures show two-thirds of global greenhouse gas emissions are linked to private households.

Meanwhile, it says the energy, food, and transport sectors each contribute about 20% of lifestyle-related emissions

Greenpeace UK argues the globe’s wealthiest people - i.e. those who live in Europe and North America - tend to emit more CO2 into the atmosphere through their lifestyles than the world’s poorest people.

So, we in the UK can have an impact by making changes to how we go about our daily lives.

Graphic: Mark Hall

What can I do to slow down climate change?

UN Act Now has several tips on how you can reduce your carbon footprint.

Here is the full list:

  • Save energy at home

Given we have all spent much more time in our homes due to the Covid-19 pandemic, this tip has become key to slashing your footprint.

A lot of the electricity and heat we use are derived from fossil fuels, such as coal and gas.

The UN says we can encourage a move to more sustainable energy sources by switching to energy providers who create or purchase power from renewable sources.

The UN says quick steps you can take include: turning your heating or cooling systems down, switching to LED light bulbs and more energy-efficient electric appliances, washing your laundry using colder settings, and hanging things to dry instead of using a tumble dryer.

The UK Government also wants homeowners to switch across to more energy efficient heating systems and is set to open a grant scheme in 2022 to help people do this.

Changing your lightbulbs to more energy-efficient LEDs can reduce your carbon footprint (image: Shutterstock)
  • Walk, bike or take public transport

Most cars burn fossil fuels, so you can have an immediate impact on emissions by walking or riding a bike to your destination.

If you’re travelling a longer distance, consider taking a train or bus.

And if you can’t avoid using a car, the UN recommends carpooling whenever possible, or switching to an electric vehicle.

While using another form of transport in your local area is a simple measure you can take, it can be tricky to travel abroad in a green way.

Airplanes burn large amounts of fossil fuels, meaning that taking fewer flights is one of the fastest ways to reduce your environmental impact.

The UN says that if you are travelling for business, try to meet virtually instead.

We will have to take fewer flights if we are to make an effective impact on our carbon footprints (image: Shutterstock)
  • Eat more vegetables and waste less food

Producing, processing, transporting and consuming any type of food has a carbon impact.

The UN says we should aim to eat local, seasonal produce to slash emissions.

In general, the organisation says we should get more vegetables, fruits, whole grains, legumes, nuts and seeds into our diets, while eating less meat and dairy.

This is because plant-based foods generally tend to produce fewer greenhouse gas emissions and require less energy, land, and water to produce.

You don’t necessarily have to follow a vegan diet, although moving to one could see your emissions drop further.

Chucking out food can also contribute to greenhouse gas emissions, although this impact can be reduced if you compost it.

Food waste is a source of emissions because you are wasting the resources that went into producing it.

Furthermore, when food rots in a landfill site, it produces methane - a powerful greenhouse gas.

  • Reduce, reuse, recycle and repair

As with food, everything we buy has a carbon footprint.

The UN says buying fewer electronics, clothes and other items can help the environment.

And if we can shop second-hand, repair items and either recycle or upcycle things after they have been used, that too can help.

Another way of improving your footprint is to purchase things from companies that follow eco-friendly policies.

For example, these firms might use resources in responsible ways or have commitments to cut their own emissions.

We can pressure businesses, local authorities and government to act on climate change (image: Getty Images)
  • Democracy

While we might not notice it every day, we all have the power to speak out about issues and influence decision makers.

After all, governments and local authorities in the UK are only in power because of our votes.

The UN says we should all talk to our neighbours, colleagues, friends and family about climate change to try to make them think about how they can cut down their footprints.

It also recommends letting business owners know you support bold changes and writing to your local MP, councillor or mayor to push them to enact more environmentally friendly policies.

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