Professor Sir Ian Boyd, UK’s Chief Scientific Adviser at the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA), has warned that “persuasive political leadership” is needed to carry the public through the challenge of meeting the net zero emissions target.
In an interview with BBC environment analyst Roger Harrabin just before he left his post at DEFRA, Boyd said the UK public has “little idea of the scale of the challenge” facing us. Achieving the net zero target will require people to use less transport, buy fewer fashion items, materials, and consume fewer “luxury” foods like red meat.
“(There’s) a conundrum – how do we shift ourselves from consuming? We need to do more about learning to live sustainably. We talk about sustainability but we don’t really know what it means… We need to reduce demand overall – and that means we need to change our behaviours and change our lifestyles.”
But he also warned that emissions won’t be reduced to net zero while ministers are fixed on economic growth measured by GDP instead of measures such as environmental security and a relatively stable climate, he argued.
He believes that polluting activities should incur more tax and the Treasury should reform taxation policy to reward people with low-carbon lifestyles and nudge heavy consumers into more frugal patterns of behaviour. But it was vital, he said, for the changes to be fair to all parts of society.
He also believes net zero won’t happen unless the government creates a Net Zero Ministry to vet the policies of all government departments in the way the Brexit ministry vets Brexit-related decisions.
He said we need to make major technological advances in the way we use and reuse materials.
Asked if he was optimistic about the future of the planet, he said: “We have the intelligence to do it; we have the potential to develop the technologies to do it… I’m doubtful that we have the governance structures to make it happen at the speed it needs it happen at.”
Sir Ian Lamont Boyd FRSB FRSE is a Scottish zoologist, environmental and polar scientist and a professor of biology at the University of St Andrews.