The UK’s overall carbon footprint has fallen by 17%, thanks in part to the coronavirus pandemic, a major study has found.
Lockdown restrictions have reduced the amount of travel people have been doing, which is the largest contributor to an average footprint.
More than 300,000 responses to WWF’s carbon footprint calculator showed an average 17% reduction in overall carbon footprint, as well as a 25% rise in people moving to plant-based (vegetarian or vegan) diets between February 2019 and October 2020.
The number of people who changed to 100% renewable energy almost doubled from 12% to 21%.
That move alone could reduce each individual’s footprint by an average of 2.9 tonnes of greenhouse gases a year, a significant saving from an annual average of 13.9 tonnes.
Average footprints decreased across all areas of lifestyle, which indicates the UK has an appetite for more sustainable living.
Around a third (30%) of an average person’s footprint comes from travel, where habits are proving harder to change, the data suggests.
While the pandemic and the lockdown restrictions, especially the decrease in the number of national and international flights, has helped, there is an issue with using public transport.
Even before COVID-19, more than 60% of respondents did not travel by public transport (bus or train), and trends show use of public transport going down.
Switching to lower-carbon transport – including cycling, public transport, and electric cars – helps reduce the travel footprint.
The study shows people who adopt lifestyle changes in one area are more likely to have a smaller overall carbon footprint in other areas too.
For example, people who always switch off appliances rather than leaving them on standby have an average footprint in other, unrelated, lifestyle areas (including food and travel) more than 2.5 tonnes less than those who don’t switch off.
Similarly, if you don’t eat meat, you’re likely to have a smaller footprint in non-food-related areas – including home emissions, as well as from things they buy such as clothes and electrical goods – compared to meat eaters.
Dr Stephen Cornelius, Chief Climate Adviser at WWF, said the results showed "an encouraging trend towards lower carbon footprints across the UK".
But he warned that travel "is an important area for carbon savings.
"As we come out of lockdown, making deliberate decisions to walk, cycle and safely use public transport are small choices that make a big difference."
Dr Chris West at the Stockholm Environment Institute, University of York, said: "The carbon calculator analysis showed people’s desire for a lower carbon future."
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