Carbon emissions drop 15% despite more people admitting to not taking action to cut carbon

31 March 2021

  • Research by Lloyds Banking Group shows two thirds (66%) of people see the environment as a top priority for post pandemic recovery.
  • However, one in five took no action to reduce their carbon footprint in the third lockdown, double the level compared to October last year.

The UK’s carbon emissions dropped by 15% during the pandemic overall compared to the year before, according to analysis compiled by Lloyds Banking Group in partnership with the Carbon Trust. 

The analysis considered the impact on carbon emissions resulting from changing consumer spending behaviour across six categories: food and drink, fuel, commuting, airlines, electrical stores and clothing stores.  

Restrictions on international and domestic travel as well as the increase in working from home have been significant factors in the drop in carbon emissions. Emissions from commuting reduced by two thirds (64%), the equivalent of 3.7m tonnes of CO2 and emissions from fuel fell by a fifth (21%) compared to the year before the pandemic. At the same time, international travel restrictions meant that the carbon emissions from airlines dropped by three quarters (74%) compared to the previous year.

As the UK prepares to emerge from lockdown, strong public support for the environment remains with two thirds (66%) of the public ranking the environment as a top priority for post pandemic recovery.

However, some of the nation’s motivation to ‘go green’ has slipped back with one in five (20%) admitting they made no efforts to help the environment during the third lockdown, the research revealed. The 20% figure is more than double the number of people who admitted to environmental inaction in October last year.

How the pandemic has impacted behaviour change

Many Britons are planning to make greener choices once restrictions lift, with seven in 10 (72%) saying they will make a conscious effort to cut their carbon footprint after lockdown.

Environmental reasons are also a factor for people thinking about a return to work, with almost three in 10 (29%) full-time employees citing this as a reason in their plans to work from home at least two to three times a week. 

Generational differences can be seen in these emerging environmental behaviour changes. Nearly half (49%) of over 55s are planning to continue the trend to shop locally compared to just 27% of younger generations (18–24 year olds). Older generations are also more likely to limit their car use than younger generations (36% and 23% respectively) and make improvements to their home’s energy efficiency (16% and 7% respectively). 

Thrifty under 25s are planning to buy more items second-hand or upcycle them than older generations (35% and 22% respectively) and are focused on changing their diets to reduce emissions (23% and 13% respectively). 

Fiona Cannon, Group Sustainable Business Director at Lloyds Banking Group said: “Our research shows Britain cares deeply about the environment and plans to do more to cut their own carbon emissions after lockdown.

“Lockdown has changed all aspects of how we live, and many good ‘green’ habits we’ve developed during the last year - look like they could be here for the longer term. 

“However, we also know some people find it difficult to know how they can play their part in helping tackle climate change, which can seem like an overwhelming and complex issue. 

“We all need to do more – businesses like ours, government and communities - to encourage and support people to make a positive impact and to show how even little steps can make a big difference.”

Myles McCarthy, Director at the Carbon Trust, said: “It is encouraging to see that the environment remains top of mind for two thirds of people in post pandemic recovery. Lockdown has disrupted our lives in many aspects, challenging people from turning aspirations into action, while encouraging more sustainable habits like homeworking and local shopping. 

As lockdown eases, and in the run-up to COP26, it is time for consumers, citizens, businesses and governments to come together and build the enabling environment that will help turn climate ambitions into long-term impact.”