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Climate gap report

We are not on track to meet international emissions reduction targets. So what is the gap between where we are and where we need to be? And what action must be taken to address it?

Rob Harrison and Ruth Strange introduce Ethical Consumer's third annual report: Closing the Climate Gap 2023: An annual report on progress towards sustainable consumer lifestyles in the UK.

The Climate Gap Report 2023

Our Climate Gap reports include simplified lists of key actions for consumers, companies and governments. These appear across 'report tables' which are available on the separate sector pages for our main impact areas: 

Key findings from the 2023 report

1. UK political leaders become openly hostile towards climate action

If we were in any doubt that our current political systems were not fit for purpose, the current year of climate denial at the highest levels of our society has meant that it is now undeniable. As such, we have introduced a new section into the Report exploring how electoral reforms urgently need to become part of the solutions we are looking at.

2. Despite this consumer choices are changing in some areas

Our summary report card shows four areas marked with a green tick: (meat consumption, residential emissions, electric car registrations and secondhand/repair rates). However, some of the apparent progress shown has been caused by external circumstances rather than policy success.

3. There is increasing unease that the Climate Change Committee’s (CCC's) targets are not robust enough and that deeper change will be needed

Climate finance to support climate action in poorer nations was the CCC’s answer to how the UK could contribute more, without making faster or deeper changes here in the UK. But the UK government doesn’t want to do either, and has been underspending by billions on its pledge. A new section in this report explores questions of fairness and credibility of the current targets in the CCCs reports.

Bar chart of million installations of heat pumps per year. 2019 0.03million, 2020 0.04 million, 2021 0.06 million, 2023 0.07 million, target 2030 1.10 million.

4. Insulation and heat pumps continue to be the furthest off targets of all our measures

The bar chart on heat pump installations is a stark illustration of how poor the UK's political leadership on climate continues to be.

The 2030 target is 1.1million installations per year, but in 2023 there were only 69,000 (rounded up to 0.07 million in chart).

5 Previous slight progress on food appears to have reversed

Despite the visible rise in plant-based food options in shops and eateries, the reported figures for average dairy consumption per week have risen, although the latest available data is two years old.

6 The quality of data still needs urgent attention

As in the previous two reports we are finding that, when we try to answer the climate gap question, in some cases, the best available data is two or more years old. It is not possible to manage an economy rationally towards urgent climate goals without meaningful and timely performance data.

7 Consumer goods carbon footprints rising

Of the consumer goods companies we looked at with adequate carbon reporting, more showed emissions going up than down. Some may have got less carbon intensive, but if growth outstrips efficiency, we aren’t getting anywhere

8. Companies concerned about the climate crisis probably need to get more politically active too

Given the reflections on the brokenness of the UK’s current political system above, and the closing windows of opportunity around us, we probably need companies to join in some of the political actions too. We suggest possible campaigns too.

At a glance graphs

The heat pump graph above is one of a series of 12 graphs which show at a glance the direction of travel towards 2030 targets. The report highlights three graphs for each impact area, along with an explanation of the current situation.

Download the full Climate Gap report

2023 report - open the report as a PDF

2022 report - open the report as a PDF

2021 report - open the report as a PDF

The full reports include the evidence that sits behind the information.

Your feedback

After you have read this report, we’d really appreciate it if you could complete a short survey to help us understand the impact it is having, and improve this in future years.

Summary Report Card 2023

The report card below summarises our key findings from the 2023 report.

Summary Report Card 2023
FOUR KEY IMPACT AREAS (c. 75% of total consumer emissions) Food (26%) Heating (14%) Transport (25%) Selected Consumer Goods (10%)
2019-2030 consumer targets based on the CCC ‘Balanced Pathway’ c. 13%* CO2e reduction c. 23% CO2e reduction c. 44%* CO2e reduction 40% CO2e reduction
Consumer intentions (willing to take actions) 34-66% willing 22-50% willing 14-43% willing 37-70% willing
Where have we got to? (current position against baseline) 1% increase (meat/dairy consumption per week, 2021) 11% reduction (2022) 18% reduction (2022) 13% reduction (2020)
What's the gap? (reduction needed from latest position to get to CCC 2030 target) 13% to reduce 14% to reduce 32% to reduce 31% to reduce
Are we moving fast enough? Yes on some elements, no on others Not fast enough on two elements Going in the wrong direction on two elements, on target for one element On target for one element, not fast enough on two
Priorities for government Rebalance agricultural policy Subsidise heating solutions Halt airport expansion Require full supply chain emissions reporting
Priorities for companies More plant options Develop creative funding and support political campaigns Reduce business travel Report supply chain emissions

What do consumers need to do?

(In each impact area, supporting
political campaigns is at least as
important as reducing our own

Reduce meat and dairy Insulate and choose heat pumps where possible Reduce travel where possible. Choose electric. Increase repair and buying secondhand

c. = circa or approximately

The 2023 Climate Gap report is free to download and contains more detail on the calculations we use and the reasons we have chosen particular indicators and goals.

What would more ambitious climate targets look like?

During Ethical Consumer Week 2023 we held an online session looking at what more ambitious climate targets for the UK could look like. 

Angela Druckman from the Centre for the Understanding of Sustainable Prosperity (CUSP) provided a fascinating presentation on this topic. The slides are available as a pdf.

Handy advice on personal climate actions you can take

The report found that across four key consumer areas (food, heating, transport and consumer goods) we are not cutting emissions fast enough.

We have highlighted ten key actions to aim for, depending on your circumstances.

You can also read more on these in our series of articles highlighting actions you can take for the climate - see the links below.

Infographic of top 8 consumer climate actions. All points are in the main text.

Join others

1) Campaigns and reforms to support

With a somewhat bleak outlook for many of the targets in the report, it can feel overwhelming as to what one person or business can do.

To address this, in the 2023 report we have included a broad selection of campaigns covering the areas of food, heating, transport and consumer goods, so that you can choose to join others in campaigning for change. Linking with others with the same aims can help us feel less despondent. We have included campaigns that individuals and businesses can join.

We have also included a section on campaigns for wider political reform. In the UK our current political systems are not fit for purpose, and as noted above, the failure of leadership is clear.

See the lists of campaigns in our full report.

2) Local performance and pressure

You can see how well your local council in the UK is performing against their net zero ambitions. Go to Council Climate Action to find your council and see how they perform compared with other councils. 

You can then contact your council to praise them on current action (if appropriate), and ask them to do more. 

3) Watch and share comedy films

If you like dark humour, new project Climate Science Translated has paired climate scientists with stand-up comedians who use their well-honed wit to offer their own interpretation of the complex and often overwhelming world of climate science in a series of punchy, short films. Comedians involved so far include Jo Brand, Nish Kumar, Jonathan Pie, and Kiri Pritchard-McLean.

The scientists said: “People need to pressure politicians to act, and humour can help science cut through to a much broader public."

Watch the Climate Science Translated films online then share in your networks.

We would like to express gratitude to Ecology Building Society for its sponsorship of the 2023 Climate Gap Report.

Ecology Building Society logo