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Climate Change: What Does Future Hold For UK?

Climate change is finally considered a global emergency by everyone, from ordinary citizens to senior executives. It is no longer a fringe concept ignored by the majority of the world's population. Climate change is a reality we face every day, and its dire consequences are only intensifying. At least, that is what we have learnt from the urgency of the latest COP27 conference.

Over the last five years, numerous catastrophic wildfires have ravaged the UK. England has seen the worst and longest-lasting of them, with some fires raging on for more than a month. Following this, areas of the Midlands, Central, and Northern regions of England saw 2019 as the wettest year ever with severe storms and flooding. But these were not the beginning; these changes for the worse started many years back when humans were still incapable of recognising them. Now, what about the future? After all the signs, can we halt what will happen to the existence of our country and planet before it is too late?

Climate change is caused by many factors, but the key cause of this issue is the burning of fossil fuels to provide energy. It is noteworthy here to consider the effects of transport on the environment as transportation is a big source of energy consumption. Transport networks also play a vital role in poor air quality and health risks.

In 2020, Leeds, the third-largest city in the UK, had more emissions than other UK cities including Manchester or Sheffield. Large industrial sites, transportation, and the household sector all generated a huge amount of greenhouse gas emissions. One of the major issues in Leeds, as stated by Dr Karen Horwood, a senior lecturer in planning and human geography at Leeds Beckett University, is the absence of a mass transportation system such as a metro or railway system. “The city has been working to address the problem for years,” she says.

The negative impacts of private jets on the environment are also largely underestimated. The yearly carbon dioxide emissions from flying in general are roughly one billion tonnes, or 2.5% of the world's total CO2 pollution, as reported by Our World in Data. The statistics from the Private Jet Club UK show that there are roughly two thousand private planes registered in the UK, and the average private jet journey to a city in Europe takes around two hours.

Back in 2021, the number of global leaders and other attendees who flew to the Glasgow COP26 summit in private jets drew criticism at the time. The figure for non-commercial flights into Glasgow, Prestwick, and Edinburgh airports from 27 October 2021 was analysed by flight tracking service, FlightRadar24. They discovered that there were 182 of these flights, about twice as many as in the previous six days. This did not include some national charter flights, including President Biden's Air Force One.

According to data from the Office for National Statistics, greenhouse gas emissions on a residence basis in the UK climbed by 6% between 2020 and 2021, reaching more than 505 million tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent. The lifting of countrywide lockdowns led to a rise in road transport use in 2021, which is primarily responsible for the increased emissions. Transportation-related CO2 emissions jumped by 10% in 2021, making up nearly half of the overall increase from 2020.

Transportation and economic growth are frequently linked. They enable access to essential services, improve economic output, and connect people. Yet, like most components of economic growth, they also present challenges for nature, leading to pollution releases that spread outside the area of transport systems. The same goes for the business sector, specifically the shocking waste of the fashion industry due to fast fashion. Fashion habits have been among the major factors causing climate change in the UK and around the world.

The UK Parliament reported that more new clothes were consumed in the UK than in any other nation in Europe. In 2017, the fashion industry contributed £32bn to the UK economy. This marked a rise of 5.4% from 2016, which was 1.6% higher than other sectors of the economy. The Guardian also noted that 2018 had seen the disposal in landfills of about three thousand tonnes of textiles from British buyers.

With the outburst of the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020, people have started to shop online more, and they can often have a product delivered to their door the very next day for an excellent price. This has generated not only extra packaging but also more deliveries by planes and lorries from logistic companies all over the world, impacting the environment negatively. Britain is an island, but it is not just an island. If something happens in another country, it will surely impact the UK. In the modern globalised era, we are all part of an interconnected web. Environmentally, we cannot just look at ourselves, we have to look at the consequences of what we are doing for all who inhabit the Earth.

According to Maria Bonner, a senior lecturer in art and design who used to work at the London College of Fashion, younger people are more used to fast fashion because they have more conditions and there is a window where they have healthy disposable income whilst remaining restricted from luxury goods. They are targeted for their money because the brands want it. Since fast fashion is cheap, it is more attractive to youngsters.

However, to make it so affordable, someone, somewhere, is paying for it. The Earth is paying for it as well. This is the cheap fashion made of materials that do not biodegrade, worsening landfills. It is also worth mentioning that fast fashion is cheap because it is made in factories where workers are neither paid sufficiently nor treated fairly. “We are all in this together, and we should think globally. Because, otherwise, it is very short-sighted. How we all behave impacts ultimately how the environment and our health are affected,” says Bonner.

Some fast fashion brands that have a large number of consumers in the UK are H&M, Marks and Spencer, and Primark. The notion of the “season” has become a marketing ploy as people think: “Oh, I have to buy new clothes.” The fashion industry promotes the concept, which many consumers buy into, that clothes have a lifespan.

Although young people are the main targeted shopper, they are actually simultaneously championing the idea of sustainability. They are more educated in this field but, sadly, a lot of this is misdirected as a result of greenwashing. Bonner explains: “Ethics and sustainability are the buzzwords. The companies embrace it not because they want to. If they do otherwise, they will lose money. It is capital.”

Even if we think we are buying sustainable garments, we cannot guarantee they really are. For instance, the identified fast fashion brand, Zara, was called out for its greenwashing campaigns by various environmentalists, especially for the limited-edition collection using LanzaTech's technology to turn carbon emissions into fabric. The resulting cloth was not manufactured from 100% captured carbon, which made Europe’s international news channel, Euronews, wonder: “Is this latest venture truly a step in the right direction for the fashion industry in its goal to reduce emissions? Or, is it an advanced form of greenwashing, concealing a global crisis of overproduction and overconsumption?”

Young people are the future. Therefore, it is important that they monitor and check this newfound attachment to ethics and sustainability because, if we scratch the surface, a lot of it is just a performative PR game. Bonner believes the only way to stop this “dire” issue is to put laws in place, but most countries are too frightened to do that. They like the fact that foreign investors come and get products made in their country. “Responsibility? I think companies are not responsible because nobody stops them. Fines actually mean something because it sounds like a massive fine to us but they have been making billions. It is just like a tip,” she says.

There has to be a change. Change is coming, whether we like it or not. But we do not know what that change is going to look like. Alice Doyle, who has been a sustainability consultant and chartered environmentalist for 15 years, says that change is going to happen quickly because we are already seeing the impacts. She adds: “Pakistan is under water. We are going to see more and more of these big weather events. The predictions I have heard from climate scientists are that they will get a lot more extreme next year and the years after. I think when that starts happening, in 2024 and 2025, there will be much bigger changes under the government and carbon production. It has to be.”

No one knows what the future holds for climate change. Or, as Dr Horwood contemplates: “Are we all going to be engaging online for big parts of the year? People will just be staying at home rather than moving around to reduce emissions. So, in 10 years time, is that going to feel entirely normal?” We do wonder what the future will be like, and hopefully, there will be big positive changes in order to adapt to what is coming.


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