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Updated: 24 Mar 2022

Six key ways to cut your carbon emissions

A recent study looking at urban consumption highlights the most effective changes we can make at home

New research has identified six key actions that people at home can focus on to make the most impact in reducing their carbon emissions.

Campaign group and charity The Jump has come up with the six behavioural shifts, based on research carried out by academics at Leeds University, and co-created by the C40 group of world cities and global engineering firm Arup.

If taken up by people around the world, the research groups suggest that these six shifts in behaviour could account for a quarter of the emissions reductions needed to stick to 1.5C or less.

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C40 is a network of mayors of nearly 100 world-leading cities including London, Paris and New York, collaborating to deliver the action needed to confront the climate crisis. The research has been done with these urban environments in mind - and The Jump emphasises that these suggestions are for people who already have enough to meet their basic needs.

Individuals can't fix the climate problem on their own, systemic change is vital. But even if you can't do all of these, or commit to them fully, choosing some of them will still help. The scheme suggests 'ambitious' and 'progressive' targets to aim for.

The shifts below are ordered by the amount of total emissions they are associated with:

Shift 1: Eat as plant-based as you can and reduce food waste

In 2017, emissions associated with food were estimated to account for 13% of total consumption-based emissions across the C40 cities.

According to the new report, three-quarters of these emissions stem from consumption of animal-based food, and one quarter from plant-based food. This doesn't include impacts from land-use change. The study also reports that 65% of on-site crop agriculture emissions are associated with production of animal-based products.

The Jump suggests that going as plant-based as you can is one of the best ways to cut your personal carbon emissions. Even if you can't cut out meat and dairy entirely, cutting down can still have a big impact.

The average meat and dairy intake in a C40 city is currently 58kg per person per year. The study suggests that reducing this to around 16kg (less than a third of current consumption), combined with cutting overall calorific intake down to a healthier amount than we currently consume, and avoiding household and supply chain food waste would cut total food emissions by 51%.

Reducing meat and dairy consumption accounts for 60% of that reduction.

Find out more: how to eat aclimatarian diet,five ways to make your diet more planet friendly and four ways to reduce your food waste

Shift 2: Ditch the car

This one is only a possible option if you have other good transport alternatives. If you have reduced mobility or live in a remote area, The Jump acknowledges it won't be doable for you.

But when it comes to urban dwellers, the manufacture and use of private vehicles in C40 cities represented 8% of their total emissions in 2017.

Car ownership levels have been growing globally and are expected to double again by 2040. If you can join a car-sharing scheme, use public tranport or cycle, you can make a big difference to private transport emissions.

If giving up your car isn't an option, try to at least keep it going for as long as you can rather than replacing it. Our recent Which? car survey has revealed the most reliable cars in the UK.

And if you are buying a new vehicle, consider going electric. Find out which electric cars we've made Best Buys in our round up of the best electric cars.

Shift 3: Only buy three items of new clothing a year

The Jump doesn't mention whether underwear and socks are included in this total - if so, it's an ambitious target! But reducing how many new items of clothing you buy, and shifting your approach to clothes shopping more generally, is a guaranteed way to reduce your personal carbon emissions.

Leeds University's research estimates that emissions from clothing and textiles made up 4% of C40 cities' consumption-based emissions in 2017. Its 'progressive' target allows for eight new items per year.

Buying second hand is a far more sustainable option. The Jump doesn't include second-hand purchases in its 'three items a year' rule, so this could be a great way to change up your wardrobe and get a more eco-friendly fix of retail therapy. Clothes swapping events or clothing hire services are also alternative options.

For advice on what to consider when buying new, read more about our own research into the environmental cost of our clothes.

Find out more:Are your pants bad for the planet?

Shift 4: Keep electronic products for longer

According to the C40 Cities report, emissions from electronics and household appliances made up 3% of total consumption-based emissions in 2017.

The lifetime of laptops in C40 cities averages five years currently. And when we surveyed 1,627 Which? members in December 2018, 46% had bought a new mobile phone within the past two years, and 63% within the past three years.

The study estimates that a total emissions reduction of 33% can be achieved by keeping electronic and household products longer - ideally for seven years.

To increase your chances of success at keeping your products for longer, make sure you buy things that have a good reliability track record and can be repaired.

Which? Eco Buys are products that we have identified through our lab tests as having a lower impact on the environment than alternative models. The critera change from product to product, but include things like being very energy efficient and therefore saving electricity with every usage, to being easily repairable.

We also consider whether the product is from a brand with a proven reliabilty record, meaning it's more likely to last a long time.

Bear in mind that we don't recommend keeping electronics that are no longer supported by security updates. Check our free security tools to find out how long your tech will last.

Find out more: how to buy a second-hand mobile phone, laptop or TV.

Shift 5: Fly once every three years

You may only be slowly returning to booking flights again after two years of travel restrictions, but for The Jump, air travel is a key emissions culprit. At its 'ambitious' level, the scheme recommends only one short-haul trip every three years. It defines short-haul as less than 1500km - a flight from London to Tenerife is nearly 3,000km. For long-haul flights, it suggests leaving an eight-year gap.

Emissions associated with flights in C40 cities made up 2% of total consumption-based emissions in 2017. The study's 'progressive' target allows for a short-haul flight every two years.

The Jump advises going to places that can be reached by train, ferry or public transport, or local UK holidays.

For our suggestions on UK days out, scenic spots and city breaks visit our guides to travel in the UK.

Shift 6: Change the system

Construction and infrastructure accounted for 11% of emissions in C40 cities in 2017. However, the research calculated that this is likely to become the biggest consumption category of the six in the future, if projected emissions between 2017 and 2050 are considered.

The changes that C40 suggests in this category are largely beyond the scope of the individual. They include steps such as the construction industry reducing its use of building materials such as steel and cement, as well as petrochemical-based and rubber materials.

So The Jump focuses instead on making one personal shift to encourage wider system change.

You could think about:

For more eco-friendly living advice backed by robust Which? research, including how to save money while saving the planet, head to our guides to sustainable living.