The Houses of Parliament, seen from across the River Thames

University of Exeter researchers have commented on what the new UK government should do in response to the climate emergency.

Labour won Thursday’s general election, with more than 400 seats in the House of Commons.

Here are the comments from Exeter researchers from a range of academic fields:

Dr Ceri Lewis, Assistant Director of the Global Systems Institute, said: “The impacts of climate change are already here. Our ocean is currently warmer than at any other time in recorded history and have been at a record high temperature every day since the 4 May last year. We are already seeing the impacts of this warming on key marine species, not just on the coral reefs currently experiencing a fourth global mass bleaching event but also in species distributions here in the UK. Many of these species do important jobs in the ecosystem or are important fisheries species. We urgently need to reduce carbon emissions to minimise further damage to these critical ecosystems.”

Professor Peter Cox, Director of the Global Systems Institute, said: “Although climate change did not appear prominently in the election campaigns, it remains one of the biggest outstanding issues for UK governments to deal with. The concept of net zero is firmly based in the most robust climate science. I urge the Labour government to use its huge majority to pursue our national net zero targets with renewed vigour. Dealing with climate change is critical but would also have other huge co-benefits for national well-being.”

Dr Natalia Lawrence said: “I hope the next UK government has the courage to transform the nation’s diet and food system. Plant-based diets have 75% less environmental impact and could prevent 24% of premature deaths. If British people ate meat-free lunches on weekdays we could save the NHS £2.2bn annually. All the evidence and actions we need are in Henry Dimbleby’s excellent (2021) National Food Strategy. It was commissioned but largely ignored by the last government – perhaps it can be enacted by the new one.”

Dr Fatma Sabet, a research fellow and sustainable food expert, said: “Schools have the largest share of government public food procurement spending. Investing a portion of school food funding in local agro-ecological food production is a win-win: it enhances food security and health equity while driving decarbonisation within the food system by reducing greenhouse gas emissions from synthetic fertilisers use and intensive industrial animal farming.”

Steffen Boehm, Professor in Organisation and Sustainability, said: “The UK housing stock is one of the most energy inefficient in the developed world. The new government should not only make it mandatory for all new homes to be carbon neutral but there needs to be a massive decarbonisation effort of the existing housing stock. This makes environmental and social sense as people will benefit from lower bills and warmer homes.”

Professor Patrick Devine-Wright, who leads the ACCESS interdisciplinary task force of environmental social scientists, said: “We now call upon the government to plan for a net zero transition that is informed by an understanding of social and cultural changes and that goes beyond economic, supply-side and narrowly framed consumer-based approaches. We need to build and communicate positive and collective visions of a net zero future that can galvanise widespread support for net zero changes, and that recognise the many benefits beyond reducing emissions, including better health, new jobs, technological innovation and a fairer society. We also know that a just transition will mean different things in different contexts, across different places and communities. It will require a place-sensitive approach that ensures that net zero interventions are locally appropriate, rather than ‘one size fits all’. It will be important to create structures and processes that engage diverse publics in informative and pragmatic conversations about the changes required e.g. Climate Commissions and Climate Citizens Assemblies. This will make the transition smoother, faster and more equal. Finally, we believe it’s crucial that government embed the critical, reflective and analytical skills of the social sciences in net zero institutions and policy, as evidenced by the work of Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) and the GO-Science Net Zero Society report.”

Dr Raphaëlle Haywood, Assistant Director of the Global Systems Institute, said: “The first thing our new government needs to do is acknowledge that humanity is part of our planet: we are not above or separate from nature. Whatever policies they choose must align with this fundamental principle. What does it mean in practice? Stop all new licences for oil and gas, now.”

Dr Peter Melville-Shreeve, who has co-founded a company called Our Rainwater that enables people to take action to manage rainwater run-off to reduce sewer overflows, said:“In a changing climate, we expect to see more intense rainfall challenging our drainage infrastructure in the years ahead. We need politicians to follow through and support our water companies to fix flooding and pollution challenges. Climate adaptation is needed at a system scale. Much of the rainwater landing on our cities is landing on our roofs and driveways, and the incoming government can help us manage rainwater at source. We can all play our part to intercept and manage rainwater – for example by deploying rain-planters akin to the Our Rainwater Smart Tanks demonstrated at the recent Chelsea Flower Show Flood Resilient Garden.

Professor Paul Halloran said: “We have run out of time to avoid 1.5°C of warming, but we can still reduce the risks of experiencing the worst impacts of climate change. We need the new government to supercharge our net zero plans and again lead the world towards a stable climate. If we don’t hit net zero, the climate will keep warming. If we don’t hit it soon, we increasingly risk triggering climate tipping points. Decarbonisation needs to be the top priority, but it is not enough. In addition, we need to be preparing to suck massive amounts of CO₂ out of the atmosphere. Carbon Dioxide Removal is currently a Wild West. One of the most important things this government could do would be to tame this frontier and put us on a track to a stable climate.”

Professor Ben Groom, Dragon Capital Chair in Biodiversity Economics, said the new government must “stay the course, be a global leader and facilitate directed investment in energy transition and biodiversity restoration”.

Exeter experts also commented on wider environmental issues. Professor Angela Cassidy said: “The debate over badger culling and bovine TB has been ongoing for over 50 years now with little sign of resolution. In order to move forwards, I recommend that ministers take steps to depolarise media debates, while listening and engaging at depth with the full range of people concerned with the issue. To understand the complex and developing knowledge landscape about badgers and bovine TB, instigating regular, open evidence reviews incorporating foresight and hindsight thinking, on this (and other controversial topics) would be a critical step towards finding sustainable solutions to this devastating disease problem.”