As a brief background, I studied abroad in London in Spring 2014. I am currently a Sustainability minor writing about responsible travel while abroad. Responsible travel incorporates the environment, the economy, and the sociocultural aspect of visiting a host community. As a study abroad student in London, it is easy to get caught up in more Americanized routines. There are also many limits to impacts you can make when financially constrained and seeking to do the most activities possible in the brief time there. In other words, sustainable travel is probably not at the forethought of your experience. However, it is easy to do through small daily adjustments and through overall awareness of being a smart traveler. When thinking of responsible travel, consider economic, environmental, and sociocultural impacts made while in London and traveling on weekends. Try to minimize negative impacts through being conscious of daily actions.
The Climate Change Attitude in the United Kingdom
Generally speaking, there is a greater acceptance of climate change across the pond. The UK as well as the city of London have many green initiatives. Greenhouse gas emission reduction policies are comprehensive and active in the UK. They are currently in line to exceed goals set by the Kyoto Protocol, an international treaty to commit to greenhouse gas reductions. In particular, London is committed to reducing carbon emissions by 60% by 2025. As a result of accepting climate change and planned greenhouse gas reduction issues, the Brits are more prepared for impacts of climate change. To the United Kingdom, primary threats include potential flooding issues or need for changing crops with colder, wetter weather.
While everyone knows London is rainy, it is about to get rainier. The flooding comes from intense downpours in the winter and rise of sea levels. Issues of flooding have started occurring in the countryside causing disruptions to transportation and crops. On the flip side, summers will become drier and hotter, exhausting water supplies in the summer months. Wildlife may migrate more north in the summer and alter the flora and fauna. What keeps London mild is the jet stream, a high speed air current, brings tropical weather far enough north to the UK. Recent studies have shown that the jet stream is now taking a longer path than normal, creating a wavier pattern. This causes weather patterns to be more extreme and last longer.
Looking from the economic perspective of change, one example of the initiative for greenhouse gas reduction policy is the government has created a low carbon economy which currently holds 1.5% of jobs in the UK economy, with this industry increasing 7% annually since 2010. They also made this industry financially attractive by showing the stability of these projects and allow investors to participate in this growing economy. Furthermore the government has created the Green Investment Bank (GIB). It’s primary role is to assist in investment of the UK Climate Investment Fund. In order to contribute their commitment to the US$100bn climate finance made by developed countries all around the world, the GIB is investing in UK’s green infrastructure to fulfill its commitment. GIB is also responsible for investing in developing countries to help fund energy and energy efficiency projects.
In another study, the UK Government Foresight Programme revealed that the economy will be effected as personal incomes are exhausted by increased food prices from changing weather. Also the changing weather could cause more health problems related to heat or skin cancers. While using tools such as the GIB to stimulate the economy, international uncertainty from changing climates and crop yields will shake up the United Kingdom economically. This background is important to be informed of different issues and initiatives occurring all around you.
How the Climate Change Attitude Affects You
The culture of London is to respect the environment. When living in a foreign country, it is important to know the general attitude about such subjects. Respect those opinions and take in how people act according to some of those beliefs.
One example to consider is how to get around London. As many have learned through experience by now, public transportation is top of the line in London. But, what is motivating the Transport for London to further its efficiency is that TFL has an active role in helping the mayor of London reduce emissions by 60% by 2025. In particular, London has low emissions zones (LEZ) to help prevent the smothering of pollution as witnessed in other big cities. In LEZ, there are cameras scanning the license plates and cross checking with registered vehicles to see if your vehicle meets the emission standards. This began in 2008 and is meant to reduce emissions with the use of a fine. To reduce congestion, there are also congestion charges in congestion zones. LEZs and congestion zones are primarily in central London. In order to avoid this, many more locals use public transportation. In 2013, London had the highest order for hybrid public buses creating an expected reduction of 20,000 tonnes/year. The tube system is being improved by increasing passenger capacity and using a regenerative braking system to reduce electricity needed for running the Tube. To further sustainable options, Transport for London has established 15 miles of integrated cycle routes along the main roads of London to encourage biking. For those who do not own bikes, Barclays Cycle Hire bikes are an easy way to explore the city by bike with plenty of stations across London.
Shopping local is another important way to embrace responsible travel in London and support the culture and economy of the British community. Shopping local also minimizes transportation energy and costs associated with everyday products to maximize efficiency and minimize environmental costs. The markets all over the streets of London reflects how important shopping local is to the community. At this point in the semester, I will assume you have explored some of the many markets occurring in London daily. My personal favorites were the Southbank market because of the neighborhood atmosphere and proximity to Conway, Portobello Market with all the beautiful antiques and liveliness of the market lined by beautiful townhomes, and the walk from Columbia Road Flower Market to Brick Lane to Old Spitalfields Markets because of the uniqueness to each stop along the way. Markets are some of the best ways to meet local people and get an insight into their lifestyle while supporting a more green lifestyle. Talk to the vendors and learn about where the product came from and why they are selling it. Besides markets, going to local cafes to satisfy coffee addictions is another way to shop local. Monmouth Cafe and Notes Cafe are both within walking distance of Trafalgar Square and perfect before or between classes.
Finally, take advantage of the London parks. The Royal Parks cares for over 5,000 acres of historic parkland, with a mission to protect the biodiversity and reduce water usage. London is a city meant to appreciate nature with all the greenspace available to city goers. There are eight Royal parks just in Central London. If you are a runner, this is my favorite city to run in because the parks just keep getting more beautiful with better weather. Find ways to get yourself into the park and take advantage of the beautiful nature and open space surrounding you. Pair it with a trip to Kensington Gardens or take the long walk from Fischer to Conway to pass through St. James Park.
Climate change or ecotourism may not be the forethought on your mind while studying abroad. However, everyone should prioritize respecting their host community and leaving a positive impact on their new city, even as big and independent as London. These considerations will help you better grasp the culture of London and can be extended into your weekends of travel. Before visiting a place, take time to learn the history and norms of the culture. Take your time to look around London’s environmental initiatives and see how they can apply to life back in the States. Lastly, enjoy your semester living in an amazing city!
*To find more posts about responsible travel for Notre Dame students, visit the student-run website: https://ndtravelguide.wordpress.com/about/sustainable-traveling/.
 Delivering UK Energy Investment: Low Carbon Energy. UK Government. March 2015
- Brittany Gibler (London Undergraduate Program, Spring 2014)
Images ©Brittany Gibler. All rights reserved.