Science/Nature

UK climate emergency: What does it mean for how we live?

A house roof covered in solar panelsImage copyright Getty Images
Image caption Making homes more energy efficient is on the climate emergency “to do” list

The Welsh and UK governments have declared a climate emergency but what could that mean in practical terms?

Wales, like most industrialised economies, has been highly dependent on fossil fuels and reaching zero carbon emissions by 2050 will require radical change.

There has been much focus on sustainable transport, but it will also affect what we buy, and how we work and live.

What we buy

Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption Will consumers turn their back on international imports to save energy?

Half of China’s emissions are from factories making goods for customers in the West, according to the Centre for Alternative Technology (CAT) in Machynlleth.

“We don’t want to import [things] from China, we want to make them in Wales,” said Paul Allen, director of the Zero Carbon Britain research centre at CAT.

“We can have things made to last so you can repair them, which is actually better for reducing emissions and better for customers.”

The environmental charity Wrap said 1.53 million tonnes of waste electrical and electronic equipment was generated in 2015 and will increase over the next five years.

The pressure will be on all industries to look at where they source their components, how much transport is involved and whether they can adapt their products for the future.

The jobs we do

Image caption Greenstream Flooring “upcycles” carpets, and boss Ellen Potts is optimistic about future opportunities

If we buy less stuff, and “reduce, reuse and recycle” it would inevitably affect businesses and jobs.

They might need to be innovative and use new materials or perhaps change their own products.

This would have a greater impact on Wales because manufacturing makes up a larger proportion of the economy than the UK overall.

New companies are likely to emerge to deal with waste and produce goods for the growing renewables sector.

Greenstream Flooring describes itself as a “zero waste” social enterprise in Porth in Rhondda Cynon Taff. It employs eight people by taking old office carpet tiles and “upcycling” them wherever possible. Anything that cannot be re-used is recycled for surfaces in equine competition arenas. Their main clients are other offices and housing associations.

Managing director Ellen Petts said: “We’re extending the life cycle of something that’s otherwise burnt or buried… plus we’re providing a solution to companies that actually want to do something better.

“I see climate change as an opportunity for real community jobs, going back to..trying to buy more local.”

Some also see the declaration of a climate emergency as an opportunity for Wales to generate more of its own energy, develop new technology and create jobs as others are lost.

The level of public investment needed could be politically controversial. UK Chancellor Phillip Hammond has said the zero carbon target will cost the country £1tn; others disagree.

Our homes

Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption Air source heat pumps use some electricity to heat buildings by acting like fridges in reverse

Houses in the UK are some of the least well insulated in western Europe, with too much heat escaping from our windows, floors, roofs and walls.

We can expect an expansion of programmes to make our homes more energy efficient, which in turn could create new markets for innovative manufacturers, and work for the building trade retrofitting existing homes.

That could include fitting solar panels and moving away from gas and oil to new heating systems.

Alternatives include lower carbon technologies such as wood pellet boilers, and air source heat pumps, which use some electricity to extract heat from the outside air, a bit like a fridge in reverse.

Any change needs a new approach, but Mr Allen is optimistic.

“It’s that sense of collective purpose, rather than buying another sofa, having a hen party in New York, actually doing stuff that can hand a better world over to the future generations that gives us heart,” he added.

https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-wales-48669908

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