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Behavioural Change

Behavioural change is our last hope for climate action

behavioural change

Following extended negotiations at COP26 over the last couple of weeks, leaders have agreed a weak climate deal which holds 1.5 degrees together by a single thread. With regards to all the most pressing pledges, to phase out coal, reduce subsidies and protect forests, Glasgow failed.

Firstly, India’s intervention to change the final wording to ‘phase down’ coal rather than ‘phase out’ highlighted the unurgency of governments to rule out the burning of fossil fuels. India was the most prominent objector to the ‘phase out’ wording, but also had support from China, both of which are in the top 3 of the world’s largest greenhouse emitters, along with the United States. The UK government used its presidency to pad out the pacts made, with a series of press-friendly announcements of non-binding pledges to cut methane emissions, end deforestation and phase out coal. These were further padded out by the ‘race to zero’ initiatives, announcements on a range of decarbonisation strategies by states, cities and businesses. With the agreements and pacts now in place, we were heading for 2.4°C at best.

While these are genuine attempts at climate action, success hinges on whether these developments can make it to national implementation by next year, but even then, it’s unlikely to be enough to keep 1.5 degrees alive.

Individuals lie at the heart of true and effective behavioural change

Even with the world’s attention firmly placed on climate change, it’s apparent that we are still not progressing with action at the necessary level. While businesses, large organizations, and governments must implement enormous changes to their current approach to climate action, individuals lie at the heart of true and effective behavioural change.

The importance of individual actions is often overlooked in the climate conversation because it’s easier to point the finger at large companies and governments to make drastic changes. The argument that is often used is that there is no point in us changing until they do, however this is far from the truth. While increased action at a corporate level is fundamental, changes to individual behaviour are the easiest way to trigger it. For example, a shift to electric cars would mean that diesel car manufacturers wouldn’t have as much demand to supply diesel cars and so would be forced to decrease production.

Moreover, it is worth pointing out that while there will certainly be small numbers of people who will change or already have changed their habits without national or international intervention, others need help, mainly in in the form of education. Most people have the means to change but do not understand how, while others understand what they can do but cannot and will not realistically make changes. For example, staying with the electric car example, many people may have the money to buy an electric car but are not sure of the benefits or availability, while others want an electric car, but cannot afford it.

Although individual change can be seen as less important than governmental change, we must not turn our back on the power of it. The control we have over our transport habits, heating use, and diet–as well as material consumption, fashion choices, and many more areas–is enough to make a significant global change.

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