Oct 17, 2018

Understanding the dangers of climate change

Words by Phoebe Purcell

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report released last week claims that if we continue to live as we are, the world’s temperature will climb to 2°C warmer than pre-industrial levels. In 2015, the Paris climate agreement set a stretch target of 1.5°C, arguing that 2°C, would be the tipping point. Scientists say that that the half-a-degree difference will result in significantly worse levels of drought, extreme heat, flooding and poverty.

If we act now, we have a chance of staying on the right side of the 1.5°C limit but there must be a rapid and significant change in four big global systems which have contributed to climate change:

1. Energy.

The continuous combustion of fossil fuels has led to the accumulation of greenhouse gases (GHG). These gases get trapped in the earth’s atmosphere, warming our planet.

2. Land Use.

Vegetation and soils act as carbon sinks. When the land is disturbed, through deforestation or urbanization, the stored gases are then re-emitted into the atmosphere, which warms the planet further.

3, Cities.

Half of the world’s population lives in cities. The International Energy Agency (IEA) estimates that urban areas currently account for over 67% of energy related greenhouse gases. The urban population is also expected to double by 2030.

4. Industry.

The use of fossil fuels and virgin materials to create new products emits GHGs and further depletes resources. Since 2000, global production in the fashion industry has more than doubled, consumers buy 60% more items of clothing per year and keeps them for half as long as they did 15 years ago.

What has Recycling got to do with Climate Change?

Manufacturing products from virgin materials depletes non-renewable resources and consumes high levels of GHG-emitting energy. Manufacturing products from recycled materials keep virgin materials in the ground and require much less energy; reducing GHG emissions and lowering the impact on climate change.

For example, the production of recycled paper reduces carbon because carbon is retained when it is recycled rather than being released when incinerated or landfilled. Recycling paper uses 70% less energy than producing paper from virgin wood.

What can you do as individuals to be part of positive change?

The Waste Hierarchy guidance is to reduce and reuse before you recycle which is sound advice. We live in an on-demand, linear economy which is showing no signs of slowing and whilst we shouldn’t feel guilty about expecting convenience, there are small changes individuals can make to help us stay inside that 1.5°C target.

  1. Energy.

  • Change your energy supplier to a renewable provider such as Bulb. They supply 100% renewable electricity and 10% green gas from solar, biomethane and hydropower.

2. Land use.

  • One-third of food produced globally is thrown away each year. If you are going to waste food, the least you could do is recycle it. Our food recycling service ensures food waste is taken to a local anaerobic digester which produces gas and electricity for homes in London.

  • Buy local food to cut down the carbon footprint in transportation and buy organic because it’s better for the soil. Sign up to a vegbox scheme.

  • The livestock sector generates 51% of global greenhouse gas emissions. Cutting out meat at least once a week should be an easy step.

3. Cities.

The average UK worker spends 400 days commuting over a lifetime and over a third of Britons drive to work, if you are one of them, consider carpooling. Reducing transportation emissions promotes a healthier lifestyle and saves you a few quid. By cycling to work you could save 0.3kg of CO2 per mile compared to travelling by car and you will help alleviate London's Air Quality problem. If First Mile can deliver sacks on a bike, anyone can try cycling to work once a week!


  • Choose and support suppliers and manufacturers that are demonstrating leadership on these issues. Support brands that use cardboard packaging (cardboard is recycled back into cardboard in 14 days) or are investing in electric delivery vehicles.

  • Don’t support fast fashion. There are plenty of second hand, quality items of clothing online and in charity shops. If you are buying new, buy hard-wearing pieces that don’t contain plastic, and won’t go out of style. This is related to land use too - cotton is grown on land! Recycle unwanted clothes with First Mile and watch The True Cost or Fashion’s Dirty Secrets to find out more.

We’ve heard it all before and unfortunately, Climate Change is a great tragedy of the commons. It’s as difficult to imagine the catastrophe it might cause as it is to link individual behaviour to melting ice caps. But, if individuals think they can’t make a difference, they are mistaken. We will see the impact of climate change in our lifetime, it’s time to make changes now!

By Phoebe Purcell


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