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  • 8th Nov 2022

What is COP27 missing?

As COP27 opened in Egypt this week, the main theme seemed to be the lack of progress as climate change competes for attention with a plethora of domestic and international crises. Not the most optimistic start perhaps, but we should not in our view despair just yet.

The energy crisis not only requires energy – and hence CO2 emission – savings at home and at work, but is also turbo-charging the shift towards renewables, according to the International Energy Agency (IEA). In addition, investment into greening our economies is a good recipe for the much coveted growth. Finally, whilst the Economist says we should say goodbye to 1.5°C, we still have one major card left to play: behaviour change. So, what does that look like?

New report: Behaviour Change for Decarbonisation

BIT is about to publish a major new flagship report on Behaviour Change for Decarbonisation. The report will include brand new project results and previously unpublished survey data from BIT to explore in detail practical behavioural strategies including: 

  • How can we make behaviour change happen at the scale required?
  • What are the key behavioural barriers to decarbonisation across the major emitting sectors of Energy, Transport, Food and Consumption?
  • What realistic policy solutions and broader interventions can be actioned now that will command public support? 

There is no credible alternative to behaviour change

While the topic of consumer behaviour and behaviour change more broadly has so far been mostly absent from COP27 (as it continues to be from the broader political debate as well), we know that behavioural strategies such as these can and must play a major role in decarbonising our economies. It would simply be enormously damaging not to.

The potential impact of behaviour change for decarbonisation is huge according to multiple studies. The majority – 63% – of future emission reductions depend on it, while a country such as the UK for example can achieve a remarkable 50% reduction in energy demand through greater focus on consumer behaviour.

Behavioural strategies aren’t just desirable however, but nothing less than essential. The latest UN environment report found that whilst there is currently ‘no credible pathway to achieving 1.5°C’, the transformation of our economies and societies required to address decarbonisation can be achieved ‘through government action, including on regulation and taxes, redirecting the international financial system, and changes to consumer behaviour’.

Meanwhile a recent report from the Environment and Climate Change Committee of House of Lords in the UK has cautioned that ‘unless we are encouraged and enabled to change behaviours in how we travel, what we eat and buy and how we heat our homes, we won’t meet those [Net Zero] targets.’ 

On a more cheerful note, we see more and more governments taking decisive and inspirational action: from Germany introducing unlimited train travel for €49 per month (£1.40 per day), France banning domestic short haul flights where alternatives are available or Spain issuing new health guidelines recommending 0 to just 3 portions of meat per week.

That said, the scale of the task – for governments, businesses and other organisations – is nothing short of enormous. We know that even if with the right message, trying to convince people to change established habits or swim against the prevailing social tides is always immensely challenging. As with all behaviour change, making sustainable options the easy, affordable, attractive and normal choices is how you can deliver truly meaningful and long term positive social changes that will improve the lives of people and communities around the world – and just may save the planet in the process. 

Listen up

Our new report will be out soon, but in the meantime, you can revisit our series of two special climate change podcasts from last year: one on nudging to Net Zero with Prof. Richard Thaler, Prof. Lucia Reisch and David Halpern and on decarbonising transport, food and energy with Cambridge University’s Professor Theresa Marteau, Moira Nicolson from the Cabinet Office and Valentine Quinio from the Centre for Cities.

If your organisation is interested in helping people to become more sustainable, please contact BIT to explore opportunities to collaborate.

Stay tuned and sign-up to our newsletter to make sure you won’t miss it when it comes out.