Behavioral and cultural changes needed if we are to save the planet

Behavioral and cultural changes needed if we are to save the planet

Behavioral and cultural changes needed if we are to save the planet
A firefighter holds the line of the Dixie Fire near Taylorsville, California, August 10, 2021. (Reuters)
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It seems that every day we wake up to news of wildfires, floods, volcanic eruptions, extreme heat or drought. Every day, we listen to scientists urge people, and governments in particular, to work to reduce humanity’s carbon footprint to save the environment. And every day we wake up to announcements that the authorities are working toward providing cleaner energy by 2030 or 2035. UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson is the latest to claim that his country will be a “climate leader,” totally reliant on “clean” energy by 2035, as he prepares to host the UN’s COP26 climate change summit in Glasgow next month.
Johnson’s usual optimism is dampened by analysis of official data that shows that the growth of renewable energy, such as solar and wind power, has fallen in Britain year on year since 2015. The analysis carried out by Ed Davey, a former energy secretary and now the leader of the Liberal Democrats, indicates that the renewables industry has been neglected under the Conservatives.
The gap between what science says is needed and what governments in the UK and other countries are doing is larger than ever. This is despite the calls made at a pre-COP26 meeting in Milan last week, when UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres reiterated that the Glasgow summit must “either save our world or condemn humanity to a hellish future,” where temperatures rise by 1.5 degrees Celsius. Guterres’ words echoed the forecasts made in the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s August 2021 report that the planet will be 1.5 C hotter than the pre-industrial age by 2050 no matter what we do to reduce carbon emissions in the meantime.
The International Energy Agency also added its weight to the argument this week, calling on the world to commit to a $1.2 trillion investment in low-carbon hydrogen production if it wants to achieve net-zero emissions. It stated that the current $37 billion committed by governments does not go far enough, even with the $300 billion of investment pledged by the private sector.
Religious leaders around the world have also appealed to governments to commit to ambitious targets at the upcoming summit, hoping that a petition they published at the Vatican will push the faithful to take notice and engage in sustainable behavior to protect the environment.
If anything, the religious leaders’ appeal finally hit upon a key word that has been absent from all discussions related to stopping climate change — behavior. How do you change the behavior of people, encouraging them to recycle, while at the same time keeping the economy growing? How can you sustain economic growth and profits while encouraging the use of sustainably sourced products, even if they are more expensive? How do you persuade people to travel less, pollute less and consume less? How would you ask a hungry family in the Global South to stop cutting down trees so they can cook dinner when they also lack fuel to warm their homes? How would you persuade a leader bent on lining his pockets and those of his cronies not to embezzle funds earmarked for decarbonizing the economy? In short, how do you change behavior in a global economic model that exploits consumerism, greed and the abuse of nature for profit?
How and how and how? The list is long.
Unfortunately, the leaders of this world are not there yet, as each has their own electioneering calculations or national power posturing to think of.
While the Paris Agreement requires nations to renew their plans to cut their nationally determined contributions every five years, such submissions have been a failure everywhere, leading the UN to warn that the planet is on course to heat by 2.7 C this century, not just 1.5 C.
Johnson hopes that “coal, cars, cash and trees” offer a starting point to push ahead with fighting global warming. Unfortunately, his focus is too narrow compared to the real to-do list the delegates at COP26 must commit to if we are to see meaningful change. For a start, there is still no agreed-upon rulebook to measure/govern states’ compliance and progress. Disputes over how to govern carbon markets and to agree on a common time frame for an interim “stock take” are proving elusive.

Unfortunately, the leaders of this world are not there yet, as each has their own electioneering calculations or national power posturing to think of.

Mohamed Chebaro

Poorer nations are still waiting on the promised $100 billion funding from richer nations to help transform and decarbonize their economies. If we leave aside the continued geopolitical squabbles — with China and Russia on one side and the Western world on the other — and if the world is successful in taming the greed of the tech and corporate giants for the common good, then the Glasgow summit might have a chance of pressing the restart button. This is especially the case since the US recently announced its readiness to double its overseas climate aid budget and China reiterated its commitment to cease new coal production abroad and meet its carbon neutrality target by 2060.
But, based on the last two years and the world’s management of the pandemic, things are not very encouraging. Countries, it seems, are predisposed to leaning toward conflictive discourses about who caused the disease or who will pay to vaccinate the poorer nations, rather than setting aside their differences to save humanity. The attitude is the same when approaching the question of how best to meet climate targets when the trust deficit remains key.
With a little over 1 C of warming so far, the two years since the last UN climate summit have seen record-shattering wildfires in Australia and the US, road-melting heat waves in North America and Siberia, and massive flooding in Southeast Asia, Africa and Northern Europe. I don’t want to imagine what the world will look like when its temperature rises further. If you expect public-private investment alone to transform economies worldwide, without sacrifices or behavioral change for all, then our planet will be doomed.

  • Mohamed Chebaro is a British-Lebanese journalist with more than 25 years’ experience covering war, terrorism, defense, current affairs and diplomacy. He is also a media consultant and trainer.
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