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How can the UK reach Net Zero by 2050?

What is Net Zero?

As individuals, as industries, and as a country, we can see the negative effects of increasing CO2 emissions on the planet: animal species going extinct, flash floods and fires, and rising sea levels. The UK, along with many other countries, has outlined a strategy to reduce our emissions to net zero by 2050. That means that by 2050, we won’t produce more emissions than we can remove from the atmosphere.

At Uswitch, we’ve analysed the emission data of key sectors to show which industries have the biggest impact, and how we can all get to net zero emissions by 2050.

Professor Sam Fankhauser

In cooperation with Professor Sam Fankhauser,
Research Director of Oxford University Net Zero

Total emissions in the UK

455.0mt
Learn more

CO2 emissions breakdown and measurement

Commuting by car contributes
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of CO2 to overall emissions. That’s 27% of the UK’s total emissions.

How does commuting by car affect emissions?

Our current commuting habit produces 30.6mt of CO2 emissions. That makes up 35% of emissions from the transport industry, and 7% of our current total emissions.

What would happen if...

Carry on as normal

All cars switched to EV 75% of cars switched to EV 50% of cars switched to EV 25% of cars switched to EV Carry on as normal
If every driver switched to an EV rather than a petrol or diesel model, this would have a huge impact on emissions, which would be reduced by 80%. Net zero would be a significant step closer - that would be 12% of our total energy-related emissions. If three-quarters of drivers switched to an EV, we could reduce the emissions related to driving to 27mt. That’s 9% of our total emissions. If half of drivers decided to swap their petrol or diesel car for an EV, our driving-related emissions could be reduced to 45mt. That’s 5% of our total emissions. If just a quarter of drivers took the plunge on an EV model, we could reduce the emissions related to driving to 62mt. That’s 1% of our total emissions. If we carry on driving petrol and diesel cars as we currently do, we won’t hit our net zero target by 2050.

How much can we reduce travel emissions by?

Transport makes up 27% of our total emissions. By reducing or stopping the car commute entirely, we can reduce the total emissions by up to 80%.

Our energy production contributes
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of CO2 to overall emissions. That’s 21% of the UK’s total emissions.

Where we are now

Our energy supply contributes 95.8mt of CO2 to the UK's total emissions. That includes everything from heating our houses to Netflix binges.

Where we are going

By 2050, if we continue to switch our energy sources to renewables, we’ll see a 67.1mt decrease in our energy-related emissions. That’s a 70% reduction.

How does our behaviour at home affect emissions?

Our current heating habits contribute 19.6mt of CO2 emissions to the atmosphere. That’s 20% of our energy-related emissions and 19% of our overall CO2 emissions in the UK.

What happens if we...

Stream as normal

Stop all streaming Reduce streaming by 75% Reduce streaming by 25% Stream as normal
If we stopped watching and streaming TV for one year, we could reduce our CO2 emissions by 2.6mt. That’s 3% of our total energy-related emissions. By reducing the amount of time we watch and stream TV by 75%, we could reduce our emissions by 1.8mt of CO2 emissions. That’s a 2% decrease to our total energy-related emissions. By reducing the amount of time we watch and stream TV by 25%, we could reduce our emissions by 0.6mt of CO2 emissions. That’s a 1% decrease to our total energy-related emissions. Our current TV and streaming habits contribute 2.6mt of CO2 to our overall emissions. That’s 3% of our total energy-related emissions.

How much can we reduce energy use emissions by?

Energy usage makes up 20% of our total emissions. By improving our energy efficiency, we can reduce emissions by up to 19%.

The food industry contributes
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of CO2 to overall emissions. That’s 20% of the UK’s total emissions.

What would happen if we...

Go 50/50

Go vegan Go vegetarian Eat 75% less meat Go 50/50 Eat 25% less meat Go carnivore
Veganuary got you feeling good? If the UK went full vegan, we could reduce emissions by 31mt - cutting over a third of our diet-related CO2 emissions and total emissions by 7%. If the whole of the UK went vegetarian, we could reduce CO2 emissions by 13mt. That’s a 15% drop in diet-related emissions and a 3% drop in our total emissions. Pass the tofu! By reducing our meat consumption and splitting our diets to 75% vegetables and 25% meat, we can reduce our diet-related emissions by 5% to 87mt - that’s a 1% decrease to overall emissions. If the average UK diet was split on a 50:50 meat to vegetable ratio, our CO2 emissions would actually increase from 91mt to 96mt. That’s a 5.2mt increase – a not-so balanced diet! If the average UK diet consisted of 75% meat and 25% vegetables, our diet-related emissions would increase by 16% from 91mt to 106mt. If our diets consisted of 100% meat, our emissions would increase by 26% from 91mt to 115mt. That’s a protein-packed increase of 5% to our overall emissions.

How much can we reduce diet-related emissions by?

Our diets comprise 20% of our total emissions. By reducing the amount of meat we consume, we can reduce emissions by up to 7%.

The UK’s aviation industry produces
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of CO2 to overall emissions. That’s 9% of the UK’s total emissions.

Where we are now

The average flight from London to Glasgow produces 137kg of CO2 emissions

Where we are going

By taking the train from London to Glasgow, we only produce 20kg of CO2 emissions. That’s 85% less than the emissions produced from flying.

How does flying affect emissions?

Currently, the UK aviation industry produces 39.3mt of CO2 emissions. That’s 9% of our total emissions! We could tackle this by changing our travel plans or choosing alternative methods of transport.

How much can we reduce air emissions by?

Travelling by air comprises 9% of our total emissions. By reducing the number of flights we take, we can reduce our emissions by up to 8%.

Waste and recycling contributes
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of CO2 to overall emissions. That’s 8% of the UK’s total emissions.

How does waste affect emissions?

The UK currently contributes 35.28mt of CO2 emissions from plastic production, food waste and the disposal of furniture and electrical goods. That’s almost 8% of our total emissions.

How much can we reduce waste emissions by?

Waste makes up 35mt of our total emissions. By reducing the use of single use plastic and being conscious of food waste, we can reduce waste emissions by up to 8%.

Other industries contribute
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of CO2 to overall emissions. That’s 16% of the UK’s total emissions.

Find out more about the path to Net Zero

  • How to reduce food waste in your home

    Food waste related emissions

    The UK government has reaffirmed its commitment to halving the amount of food waste generated in the UK by 2030. Read on to find out how you can reduce your food waste.
    Learn more
  • Reducing your carbon footprint

    Understanding carbon footprints

    What is a carbon footprint, how can it be measured and what can be done to reduce your carbon footprint? Find out how to measure your carbon footprint, how to reduce it and why it matters.
    Learn more
  • Car emissions

    How to reduce your car pollution

    Currently, the Department for Transport reports that transport is responsible for 27% of total UK greenhouse gas emissions, with over half of the UK’s transport emissions coming from cars. Find out how you can reduce your car pollution.
    Learn more
  • How to reduce your eco impact at home

    Low carbon heating

    Heating our homes comprises a significant amount of our overall energy usage, but it’s largely detrimental as far as the battle against climate change is concerned.
    Learn more
  • Reduce fast fashion environmental impact

    Sustainable fashion

    Over the past few decades, the clothing industry has pioneered the art of ‘fast fashion’. Clothes are produced in greater numbers, but are typically a lower quality, which encourages people to discard them more quickly.
    Learn more

The solutions to climate change rely for about one third on technology (like renewable energy), one third on changing behaviour (like eating habits) and one third on both (like getting used to electric cars). This means that people have a big part to play in reaching net zero carbon emissions, something the UK, together with 130 other countries, is committed to do by 2050. A lot of small measures add up, and we don’t all have to do the same thing.

Good information is available from platforms like Uswitch on what the options are. Some options will make us healthier, like more walking and cycling, or a better diet. Some will save us money, like home insulation and more efficient appliances. Many are easy to get used to, like driving an electric car, although others will need a bit of determination, such as installing a heat pump. Some we won’t notice at all, like switching to a renewable energy tariff. Everything will feel normal before long.
Professor Sam Fankhauser Professor Sam Fankhauser
Professor of Climate Change Economics and Policy at the Smith School and the School of Geography and the Environment, Oxford University