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5 things you can do about climate change

As world leaders descend on Glasgow for the COP26 climate summit, ordinary people might be wondering what they personally can do about climate change. And how does individual action fit into the bigger picture?

We’ve drawn up our top 5 picks of the most achievable ways you personally can make a difference. While you alone may not be able to make drastic emission cuts like the government can, personal action is critical in raising the importance of environmental issues to policymakers and businesses.


“Use your voice, use your vote, use your choice”

– Al Gore


Credit: Kevin Scott for Belfast Telegraph


1. Use your voice 

Using your voice as a consumer and a member of the electorate will lead to changes on a much greater scale - especially if we act together.

Part of being an active citizen is communicating the need for change to a wider audience. Join a social movement or campaign, or simply get friends and family talking about climate change and inspire them to act.

Tell your MLA, local councillors and city Mayor that you think climate action is important. Find out which parties have prioritised climate change as a key issue and are doing something about it. 

A prosperous future depends on their choices about everyday things like cycling infrastructure, energy, green space, air quality, recycling and public transport. Ultimately taking steps to decarbonise our economy will have co-benefits for society such as improved health, growth in green jobs, and reduced inequality. This is particularly relevant for local decision makers – share it with your local MLA.




2. Move your money

Find out where your savings, pensions, ISAs and shares are invested. Many banks, pension funds and big corporates are heavily invested in the fossil fuel industry. However responsible investment – which considers environmental, social and governance (ESG) concerns when investing money – is growing quickly and ESG funds often match or outperform fossil fuel indices. 

According to Make My Money Matter, moving your money to ethical investments is 21 x more powerful than going veggie and giving up flying. The website has advice about how to engage with your bank or pension provider, to find out if you can opt out of funds investing in fossil fuels. 

There are also several ethical banks you can investigate. 



3. Cut consumption - and waste

Everything we buy as consumers has a carbon footprint. Energy, food, fashion, tech. The further away the product is made, the bigger the carbon footprint.

As a rule of thumb, we should buy less and buy better. The most sustainable product is always the one you don’t buy. In energy terms, it’s called energy conservation or ‘demand management’. It’s also called being resourceful. 

Reduce your energy use

Around 50% of energy consumption by end use is heating. Retrofitting your home, or better still choosing an energy efficient home when house hunting, will save you money and help the planet. Check that the roof and walls are properly insulated. Consider draught-proofing windows and doors and make sure your hot water tank is lagged. If you are renting, lobby your landlord to make sure the property is energy efficient.

Other behavioural changes at home will help you use less energy, like putting an extra layer on and turning down the thermostat. Turn off appliances when you don’t need them. Replace light bulbs with LEDs. Buy a water efficient showerhead.

Switching energy supplier to a green tariff is a great way to invest in renewable energy and could save you money on bills too.

Eat less red meat and dairy

Eat fewer or smaller portions of meat, especially red meat, which has the largest environmental impact, and reduce dairy products or switch them for non-dairy alternatives. It's also good for your health.

Try to choose fresh, seasonal produce that is grown locally to help reduce the carbon emissions from transportation, preservation and refrigeration. 


Above: Infographic showing the resource intensity of different diets (Source: Grantham Institute)

For more details on how eating a more plant-based, seasonal diet can help tackle climate change, support the local economy and help us to live healthier lives, check out Imperial College London’s blog: Saving the planet, one meal at a time.

Buy less, buy better

Avoid disposable items and fast fashion and try not to buy more than you need. 

Shop around for second-hand or quality items that last a long time. Repair and reuse. Give unwanted items a new life by donating them to charity or selling them on. 

Use your purchasing power as a force for good by choosing environmentally and socially conscious brands that align with your green aspirations. Look out for eco labels and sustainability accreditations. 

Where possible, buy local. You’ll be supporting local businesses and reduce needless transport and packaging. If you can’t get what you need locally, use online services like amazon as a last resort and use the climate pledge friendly filter to select sustainable products. 

Waste less

Part of being a responsible consumer involves cutting down on waste. 

Avoid wasting food. Say no to disposable cups, bags and cutlery. Use reusable alternatives. Try refillable food stores like Refill Quarter. Let brands and shops know if you think they are using too much packaging – some take customer feedback seriously. 



4. Fly less

Transport is the second largest emitting sector of the economy, accounting for 20% of NI greenhouse gas emissions in 2019. 

Most people recognise that flying is about as carbon intensive as it gets when it comes to transport. If travel is required for work, consider joining by video-call instead. For leisure trips, choose nearby destinations, and fly economy – on average, a passenger in business class has a carbon footprint three times higher than someone in economy

When flying is unavoidable, pay a little extra for carbon offsetting.


Above: Infographic showing how the cost, time and carbon emissions of a single journey from London to Amsterdam by plane compare to travelling by train. (Source: Grantham Institute)

Go further

Instead of getting the car, walk or cycle – and enjoy the physical health benefits and money saved. For longer journeys, use public transport or try car sharing schemes

Not only do cars contribute greenhouse gases to the atmosphere, but air pollution from exhaust fumes poses a serious threat to our health. It’s believed around 500 people die in Northern Ireland every year from poor air quality. Not only does it affect our lungs, it has been shown to affect the health of unborn babies and increase the risk of dementia

If driving is unavoidable, investigate trading in your diesel or petrol car for an electric model. The government has legislated that no new petrol or diesel cars can be sold by 2030, so consider it an investment! Alternatively, if you only use the car occasionally there are some all-electric car hire companies and car clubs.

When behind the wheel, think about how you drive: 

Switch off the engine when you park.

Make sure the tyres are fully inflated and oxygen sensors are in good order – this can increase the car’s fuel mileage and efficiency by up to 3% and 40% respectively.

Drive smoothly. Erratic driving and hard breaking uses more fuel.



5. Respect, protect and expand green spaces

Nature is our biggest ally and our greatest hope in the fight against climate change. The nature crisis and the climate crisis go hand in hand. 

Green spaces, such as parks, peatlands and even gardens, are important as plants absorb carbon dioxide. They are nature’s very on carbon capture and storage mechanism. They help to regulate temperature by cooling overheated urban areas, they can reduce flood risk by absorbing surface rainwater and can provide important habitats for wildlife

They also provide multiple benefits to public health, with studies linking green space to lower levels of air pollution and reduced levels of stress

What can I do? 

Plant trees. Native deciduous trees have the potential to absorb and store the most carbon dioxide and provide suitable habitat for local biodiversity. The Woodland Trust are aiming to plant 64 million trees over the next 10 years – and need your help. Whether you want to plant a single tree in your garden or a whole wood, they have the tools and resources to help.

Create your own green space. Add pot plants to your windowsill or balcony, and if you own your own space, don’t replace the grass with paving or artificial turf. 

Help to protect green spaces like local parks or community gardens. Organisations like Social Farms and Gardens and the National Federation of Parks and Green Spaces have advice and resources on how you can get involved locally.

Check out TCV. If you don’t have direct access to open spaces, this community volunteering charity brings people together to connect to nature and create healthier communities.

Find out more

Read about the benefits of integrating nature into urban spaces in this expert briefing: Integrating green and blue spaces into our cities: Making it happen