Climate Change

IPCC Report: We need behavioural change, not climate change

While stringent legislation and progressive policy changes are crucial for inducing action and limiting global warming, we, as citizens and consumers, need to change too

By Padmini Gopal
Published: Tuesday 09 October 2018

The message from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) Special Report on 1.5 degrees Celsius (°C) is unequivocal—we must reduce emissions to net-zero by 2050 or risk facing dire climatic consequences. Seems like an easy choice to make, doesn’t it? Unfortunately it is not. Making the choice isn’t what is hard. It is the act of changing one's behaviour. Humans are creatures of habit and that is what makes addressing climate change additionally challenging.

All too often, the general response to environmental and climate issues is to blame or rely on stringent legislation and progressive policy changes. While this is crucial for inducing action and limiting global warming, as citizens and consumers, we need to change as well. We need to make greener behavioural changes ourselves and demand environmentally-conscious alternatives, as these can propel political decision-making and markets towards pursuing a 1.5°C consistent path when they are not.

The IPCC Special Report highlights different mitigation pathways that are in line with meeting the 1.5°C goal and they all assume substantial demand-side mitigation, and behavioural and lifestyle changes to be able to limit warming to 1.5°C.  The report states the following ways in which one can take climate action with examples:

  • Implementing resource efficiency in buildings—Insulation, low carbon construction material
  • Adopting low-emission innovations—Electric vehicles, heat pumps, district heating and cooling
  • Adopting energy efficient appliances—Energy-efficient heating/cooling and energy efficient appliances
  • Adoption of renewable energy—Solar rooftops, solar water heaters
  • Energy saving behaviour—Walking or cycling for short distances, using mass transit, line drying for laundry; reducing food waste
  • Consumption of products with low Green House Gas (GHG) emissions—Reducing meat and dairy intake, buying local and seasonal food, replacing aluminium products by low-GHG alternatives
  • Organisation behavior—Designing low-emission products, replacing business travel by video-conference when possible
  • Citizenship behavior—Engage through civic channels to push for low-carbon climate resilient development in the state

Making such consumer choices and behavioural changes can significantly reduce energy consumption, generating substantial reductions in GHG emissions.

While knowing these actions is crucial, it is often not sufficient to drive behavioural change. The report suggests that people are generally motivated to address climate change when its risks directly affect them at present, and that “high impact events with low frequency are remembered more than low impact regular events”. However, we should not have to wait for another climate disaster to strike to spark climate action. So what can be done to catalyse such action?

We need to revive our relationship with nature that has otherwise been severed by capitalism. One of the ways to do so is to change the conventional social norm of environmental indifference to environmental cognizance. A Science review on climate psychology outlines that sustainability leaders and “transformational” individuals—those who have changed their ways to adopt a more climate-conscious lifestyle and have stepped outside accepted social norms—can play a vital role in galvanising collective action and bringing about substantial change through their social networks and organisations. Additionally, all of us can play a pivotal role in inspiring action by collectively supporting such individuals and their initiatives. Highlighting our interdependence with nature through our social interactions can drive the behavioural change we need to limit warming to 1.5°C.

Physical science has made clear what actions we must take to fight climate change, but it is high time that we tuned our mind and soul towards nature to bring about the large-scale change we need to save the planet. 

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