9 New Years’ Climate Resolutions To Keep For 2021, According To Experts

With London in lockdown, thousands more people have taken to getting their exercise in the U.K. … [+] capital’s green spaces. In...


This last year might not have been the absolute worst in history, but few would regard 2020 as a good one, having delivered a deadly pandemic that many countries have proved powerless to stop.

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Yet as vaccines roll out and thoughts turn to a longed-for recovery, the larger existential threat of climate change grows ever more acute. As of December 27, 1,863 jurisdictions and local governments accounting for 820 million people around the globe had declared a climate emergency.

Looking at this growing tide of awareness, climate researchers in London have devised a nine-point list of alternative New Year’s resolutions that, if adopted widely, could turn individual carbon-cutting habits into collective action.

Alyssa Gilbert, director of policy and translation at Grantham Institute—Climate Change and the Environment at Imperial College London, compiled the resolutions.

“This is the time that we all take stock and think about how we might do things differently in the coming year,” Gilbert says. “Our resolutions are just like that, with a focus on our relationship with the environment.”

The resolutions are based on climate and environmental research conducted at Grantham, including work used by the U.K.’s Climate Change Committee to show that individual behavioural change could reduce carbon emissions by up to 20%.

That being the case, here are the Nine Green Resolutions For 2021:

1. Commit to waking up those in power

It’s likely that political leaders aren’t taking climate action as seriously as the public: polling in the U.K. has revealed that two thirds of people believe the climate is just as big a concern as coronavirus and that politicians should treat it as such. “Tell your MP, local councillors and city mayors that you think action on climate change is vital,” Gilbert says. In Britain, it’s relatively easy to locate and contact your MP. Gilbert also recommends joining a climate campaign group to facilitate mass action. “High-level decisions can only be achieved if we, as individual citizens, show our support for protecting the environment, empowering and emboldening our governments to do the same,” she adds.

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2. Get on your bike

“It’s better for your waistline and will reduce pollution levels,” Gilbert says. Pollution from internal combustion engines harms unborn babies, increases the risk of dementia, and hospitalizes tens of thousands of people every year. On the other hand, whether you walk, cycle or scoot, research shows such exercise reduces environmental harms while delivering physical and mental health benefits. And if a car is the only way to get where you need to go, considering looking for car sharing groups in your area.

3.  Eat less meat and dairy

As reported by Forbes.com earlier this year, red meat and dairy consumption have an outsized emissions impact. Imperial researcher Neil Jennings has observed that “shifting to a more plant-based diet and reducing meat intake is the single biggest action we can take to reduce our impact on the environment.” At the more radical end of the dietary spectrum, a team at Imperial has even been investigating how people in the Western world can be convinced to eat insects as a rich source of protein.

4. Reduce your energy use 

“Small changes to your behaviour at home will help you use less energy, cut your carbon footprint and your energy bills,” Gilbert says. “These include putting on an extra layer, turning down the heating by a degree or two, switching off lights and appliances when you don’t need them and replacing light bulbs with LEDs or other low-energy lights.” The U.K.’s energy saving trust has plenty of tips on how small changes can reduce your bills while keeping you warm this winter. For people in England, the government’s Green Homes Grant funds home improvements such as insulation, and the current scheme has been extended until March 2022.

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5. Cut down on what you consume

As opposed simply giving up bad habits for the New Year, Gilbert says, “commit to cutting consumption and waste.” She points out that everything we use as consumers has a carbon footprint. As well as cutting out single-use items from day-to-day life, she says, “resolve to repair and reuse items, because the biggest environmental footprint is embedded in making new things.” Eliminate food waste by getting creative with leftovers, choose refillable cosmetics, cleaning products and store cupboard items, and let brands know if you think they are using too much packaging.

MORE FROM FORBESThis Is How Much Plastic From Amazon Deliveries Ends Up In The Ocean

6. Talk to others about the changes you’re making

“Don’t be a bore or confrontational – just talk enthusiastically to friends, family, clients and customers about the steps you’re taking,” Gilbert says. According to research published in the journal Ecopsychology, solution-focused stories are more effective than catastrophic warnings in motivating pro-environmental intentions. British charity Climate Outreach discusses how to talk effectively and persuasively about climate change.

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7. Meet friends and family outdoors

Parks and gardens absorb carbon dioxide and are associated with lower levels of air pollution. In summer months they help to regulate temperatures by cooling overheated urban areas, and in wetter times they reduce flood risk. What’s more, research has shown time spent in urban green spaces reduces stress. Gilbert further suggests getting friends and family to join tree planting schemes such as those run by The Woodland Trust, along with conservation work organized by Fields in Trust and the National Federation of Parks and Green Spaces. In England, Scotland and North Ireland, TCV brings communities together to conserve and enjoy green spaces.

8. Commit to flying less, even when the lockdown ends 

For business travellers, Gilbert points out that the pandemic has demonstrated how much can be achieved using video-conferencing. When you have to move, where possible you should travel by rail. But for those desperate to jet overseas as soon as the pandemic recedes, reputable carbon offsetting schemes can help to neutralize the impact of those emissions. But do make sure you fly economy: business class passengers have a carbon footprint three times higher than those towards the rear of the plane. Travellers can use Myclimate to check the carbon emissions of their flights.

9. Invest responsibly

“Voice your concerns about responsible investment by writing to your bank or pension provider and ask if you can opt out of funds investing in fossil fuels,” Gilbert says. Despite widespread efforts to encourage firms to divest from fossil fuels, and some major funds pledging to address climate change, many banks, pensions funds and large corporations continue to hold investments in fossil fuel companies. Grantham holds regular discussions on the topics of sustainable pensions and green investment, highlighting the impacts big finance can have on climate action. As reported by Forbes.com earlier this year, investments in renewable energy and other low-carbon concerns consistently outperform the wider market.

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Summing up the resolutions, Gilbert says: “Shifting social norms can be a powerful way for us to tackle environmental problems, and individual action can be at the heart of that.”

“If a type of action becomes more widely acceptable, or even actively desirable and fashionable, we can see the whole of society behave in a more environmentally friendly way.”

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