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Teachers and policymakers are missing a golden opportunity to show people the best ways to cut climate change and reduce their carbon footprint, a new study says.

It identifies four ways of behaving that it says will have the most substantial effect in decreasing someone’s climate impact: eating a plant-based diet, avoiding air travel, living without reliance on a car, and having smaller families.

The researchers, from Lund University in Sweden, analysed 39 peer-reviewed papers, carbon calculators and government reports to calculate the potential of a range of individual lifestyle choices to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

They say their comprehensive analysis identifies what people can do to have the greatest impact, according to a Climate News Network message UNB received from London.

Writing in the journal Environmental Research Letters, the authors say their study found the incremental changes advocated by governments may represent a missed opportunity to reduce greenhouse gas emissions beneath the levels needed to prevent 2°C of climate warming, the goal set by the 2015 Paris Agreement.

The lead author of the Swedish study, Seth Wynes, said there are so many factors that affect the climate impact of personal choices, but bringing all these studies side-by-side gives us confidence we’ve identified actions that make a big difference.

“Those of us who want to step forward on climate need to know how our actions can have the greatest possible impact. This research is about helping people make more informed choices. For example, living car-free saves about 2.4 tonnes of CO2 equivalent per year, while eating a plant-based diet saves 0.8 tonnes of CO2 equivalent a year.”

These actions, therefore, have much greater potential to reduce emissions than commonly promoted strategies like comprehensive recycling (which is four times less effective than a plant-based diet) or changing household lightbulbs (eight times less effective), Seth Wynes said.

Study co-author Kimberly Nicholas said, “We recognise these are deeply personal choices. But we can’t ignore the climate effect our lifestyle actually has. Personally, I’ve found it really positive to make many of these changes. It’s especially important for young people establishing lifelong patterns to be aware which choices have the biggest impact.”

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