What can you do to mitigate climate change according to the IPCC?

Not because it was expected, it has been less alarming. This week the third and final part of the Sixth report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) of the UN.

In previous reports, more technologically accessible measures and more progressive cuts were proposed. Now, the urgency of limiting global warming to 1.5 ℃ (or more realistically 2 ℃) has experts raising the need to implement drastic policies in the short term combined in the medium term with technologies such as carbon capture, whose large-scale application still faces significant technical challenges.

An important novelty of the new report is that it incorporates an analysis focused on the decisions that individuals and households make as consumers. It is on the direct and indirect energy consumption of households that shock actions fall in the short term (between now and 2050).

In the current context –rising energy prices, high dependence on non-democratic countries– the debate about What impact can our actions have? it sharpens.

The carbon footprint of citizens is an appropriate measure to measure their responsibility, since it considers the direct and indirect emissions associated with the decisions they make. A change in consumption patterns helps guide the economy onto a more sustainable development path and can contribute to mitigating climate change.

The “avoid-change-improve” approach

The report structures the measures following the “avoid-change-improve” approach, which was originally applied to sustainable transport, but is now applied more generally to consumer behaviour.

The panel of experts estimates the mitigation potential of these measures in a 40-70% reduction in emissions. 5% could be reached very quickly only with changes in our habits (mainly in developed countries). In addition to these sociocultural factors, the measures also focus on the use of infrastructure and the adoption of new technologies that allow such modifications.

Among the behavioral changes, in the “avoid” category, we found not using the car and reducing one long-distance flight per year as the two elements with the greatest mitigating potential at the individual level, followed at a distance by the increase in teleworking , less use and greater recycling of packaging and the reduction of food waste.

As “changes”, they include a greater use of public transport, the reduction of meat consumption, greater active mobility (biking and walking) and the replacement of the plane, when possible, by the train.

Within the “improvements”, the star measures are the electric vehicle increasingly powered by renewable energy, which should also provide electricity for our homes, and improvements in insulation and ways of heating our homes.

In individual terms, abandoning the combustion car and using the electric one (or even better, walking and cycling), could reduce 2 tons of CO₂ equivalent per year per person. And the same reduction of one flight per year.

In total, a saving of 9 tons of CO₂ equivalent could be achieved with the indicated measures. But this would be for high-spending consumers in developed countries. For the world population as a whole, the most relevant measure would be a change in diet, since the majority do not fly, their expenditure is very low and their emissions are well below the world average of 7.8 tons.

The footprint of the companies and the greenwashing

Contributions from consumers would allow us to buy time – which we have already lost almost entirely – while deepening the changes to get rid of fossil energy. Eliminating it still requires overcoming not only technological obstacles (application of hydrogen in planes and ships, for example), but also those related to the transfer of knowledge and financing.

Governments must implement more ambitious policies than those applied to date. The plan Target 55 that is being discussed in the EU for the ecological transition proposes to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 55% by 2030 (compared to 1990) and achieve climate neutrality by 2050. This plan focuses, among other areas, on the energy, mobility and food in line with the recommendations of the Sixth Report of the IPCC. It is a step in the right direction, but without a firm commitment from the population it will be insufficient.

However, mitigation measures focused on the demand side (consumers), by shifting the responsibility to households, allow those who are mainly responsible for carbon emissions to “wash their hands”. We are talking about companies and, above all, about multinationals.

An analysis of direct carbon emissions in the Spanish economy shows that consumers are responsible for 25% of direct emissions in 2020, the remaining 75% corresponds to companies. And, for the world economy, 90 public and private fossil energy companies are directly responsible for 63% of the historical broadcasts.

Subsidiaries of multinationals represent 22.5% of the footprint of carbon of the world economy and only US affiliates operating in the rest of the world represent the 1.5% of total emissions.

There are initiatives to fight climate change in the private sphere in which more and more companies are getting involved –Science based targets, SBTi, ISO 14064 standards for organization carbon footprint, GHG Protocol, Carbon Disclosure Project, the NAZCA platform of the UN, etc.–. They are increasingly aware of reducing their carbon footprint due to growing pressure from consumers and investors. However, much remains to be done. Also to ensure that the measures taken are not mere “greenwashing” (greenwashing).

The United Nations (and the European Union) are aware of the growing existence of this greenwashing. For this reason, the United Nations has just launched in April 2022 a group of high-level experts to fight it. The objective is to push companies, investors and cities to fulfill their promises of zero emissions.

Appearance of the Scientific Rebellion protest in front of the Spanish Congress of Deputies on April 6, 2022.
Scientific Rebellion / Rodri Mínguez

Will consumers change our behavior?

The positive perspective of this vision of the IPCC is that changes in our habits can be compatible with the global improvement of well-being: they contribute to reducing the differences due to economic inequality – developed countries and households with higher incomes are the most responsible for emissions and their reduction– and gender inequalities –men tend to eat more animal protein and travel more by car– and improve governance by reducing the concentration of power in certain countries and groups and increasing citizen participation.

The adoption and effectiveness of the measures will be greatly conditioned by the enormous economic inequalities and by the unfair distribution of climate responsibilities among individuals. We must all strive to change habits, although predictions for 2030 suggest that the poorest 50% of the world’s population will produce emissions well below the target, while the level of emissions of the richest 1% will be 30 times higher than the target at Paris Agreement.

Experts acknowledge that consumer motivation to implement these necessary changes is low globally. For this reason, incentive and penalty policies that take into account the social and cultural contexts in each country will be essential.

When it comes to avoiding highly polluting measures or promoting sustainable ones, we cannot only think of solutions related to taxes on greenhouse gases that imply price increases, since these measures can be regressive and have little effect on households. higher rent.

It is very important to regulate and limit actions and, sometimes, even prohibit. Establishing low-emission zones in urban centers, banning the use of single-use plastics and the sale of fossil fuel vehicles, etc., are measures that have already been taken or that must be taken with determination and courage to accompany and promote or limit consumer action.

Perhaps now is the time to paraphrase John F. Kennedy, and ask ourselves not only what our country can do for the planet, but what we can do for the planet and if we are willing to do it.

Maria Angeles Tobarra GomezFull Professor of Fundamentals of Economic Analysis, Castilla-La Mancha university; Luis Antonio Lopez SantiagoProfessor of Fundamentals of Economic Analysis, Castilla-La Mancha university; Maria Angeles CadarsoUniversity Professor, specialist in Economy and Environment, Castilla-La Mancha university; Nuria Gomez SanzProfessor/Researcher in Environmental Economics, Castilla-La Mancha university and Pilar Osorio MorallónPhD researcher, Castilla-La Mancha university

This article was originally published on The Conversation. read the original.

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