Sacrifice meat and flights for sake of climate, chief scientific adviser says

People will need to eat less meat and cut down on flights to tackle climate change, the UK’s chief scientific adviser has said, warning against relying on new technologies to “save us”. 

Asked whether he thought people would need to reduce their meat consumption and flying, Sir Patrick Vallance said: “I think I think those are things that need to happen.” 

He added: “I think there will be a move away from the extent of meat eating we’ve seen in the past, and I think we will all need to think about our flying habits.”

Sir Patrick made his comments as he released a joint statement with 37 other senior government scientists ahead of the Cop26 international climate summit calling for “rapid, urgent and sustained action and significant behavioural, socioeconomic and technological transformations” to limit global warming. 

There are fears that the summit, which starts next week in Glasgow, could fall short of pledges that will limit warming to 1.5C, the aim of the Paris Agreement. 

The Balanced Net Zero Pathway Investment programme 2020-2050

Scientists from major polluters China and Russia, whose leaders are not expected to attend the summit, were absent from the scientific letter. 

The Government’s own net zero strategy to cut emissions was criticised by its advisers, the Climate Change Committee, for failing to tackle behaviour change around meat and flying. 

Sir Patrick said it was important for green choices to be affordable and easy for consumers, which he suggested could be helped by technological developments. 

But he warned against relying on “some magic new technology coming along in 2035. That’s going to solve the problem for us.”

The Government’s approach to tackling emissions from food and flying relies heavily on the development of new technologies to reduce methane emissions in cattle, as well as the upscaled use of sustainable aviation fuel. 

“We shouldn’t sit back and assume that some technology as yet not invented is going to save us. That would be the wrong way to think about this,” Sir Patrick said. 

He added that he had reduced his own meat consumption, “and I intend to continue doing that.”

“There needs to be a clear understanding, as to what it is you can do at the individual level that makes a difference,” he said. 

“So, a little bit of reduction in the amount of meat you eat, or deciding not to fly as often.

“Those things individually, of course, have a trivial impact at the individual level, but they are huge when you aggregate them across millions and millions and millions of people.

“And so I think this behavioral change part of this is really important.”

But he added that Government policy needed to help people make behavioural change, pointing to charging infrastructure to help people avoid “range anxiety” when using an electric car.

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