Radical action must be taken to achieve net zero emissions by 2050

Experts in the BMJ argue that radical action must quickly be taken to change unsustainable and unhealthy behaviours to achieve net zero emissions by 2050.

Drastic action is needed to transform systems currently supporting unhealthy and unsustainable behaviour, or it will not be possible to reach net-zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050, argue experts in the BMJ.

Zero emissions through healthy lifestyle

Theresa Marteau at the University of Cambridge and colleagues have expressed that transforming behaviour across populations is crucial to attaining net-zero as technological innovation alone will be insufficient.

The researchers centre on behaviour surrounding diet and land travel, which contribute approximately 26% and 12% of global greenhouse gas emissions, respectively.

They argue that for the public, implementing a mostly plant-based diet and making the majority of journeys through a combination of walking, cycling, and public transport would significantly lessen greenhouse gas emissions and enhance health.

The team recognise that modifying behaviour at scale is not an easy task but explain that adjusting the physical and economic environments that drive the behaviour to begin with is the most likely way of achieving this.

Policy implementation

On top of this, they believe that the required changes to diet and land travel can be achieved through policies that enhance accessibility and improve the cost-effectiveness of healthier and more sustainable options.

For example, the researchers point to encouraging healthier and more sustainable foods whilst boosting prices of carbon-intensive foods and decreasing prices of foods that are less carbon-intensive. As well as this, policy to develop safe and attractive cycling and walking routes and ensuring affordable public transport can be implemented, alongside limiting the accessibility and desirability of car use.

The researchers maintain that changes must be fair and equitable as well as effective to gain the support of the public. They must also be motivated by evidence and protected from powerful commercial interests.

“Complex coordinated behaviour can be mobilised by a shared, positive narrative, reflecting collective goals, alongside a clear vision, making vivid the many benefits of a net-zero world,” the researchers write. “The development of such a vision—both global and regional—is a priority and requires co-creation by citizens, governments, and industries, informed by scientific expertise and protected from corporate interference.”

“With sufficient daring from the world’s governments, the flexibility, creativity, and social nature of human behaviour can achieve a just transition to net-zero, thereby protecting the health of current and future generations,” they conclude.

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