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Cambridge Institute for Sustainability Leadership

April 2021: Mechanisms such as individual and collective behaviour change could be effective measures to mitigate climate change if they sit alongside wider change efforts at system level such as technological improvements. To incentivise behaviour changes, policies such as targeted regulations, nudges, or financial incentives could be implemented to encourage the uptake of e-mobility, a reduction of flight frequency, and better insulations for large homes, for example.

Information

Alongside shifts in policy, service provisions, and technological changes, the Cambridge Sustainability Commission on scaling behaviour change is calling for increased efforts in far-reaching lifestyles changes to mitigate climate change and biodiversity loss. In the lead up to COP 26 in Glasgow, there is increasing evidence that sustainable behaviour change to mitigate climate change is rising up the climate policy agenda. According to the UN, the world’s wealthiest 1% produce double the combined carbon emissions of the poorest 50% at a global scale. The world’s wealthiest often fly most, drive large cars such as SUVs, and live in large homes that they can afford to heat, and experience fewer incentives insulate their homes. Paradoxically, these groups could generally afford to retrofit and insulate their homes (e.g. solar panels) but often choose not to. The commission suggests that systems change at the technological and policy level will need to sit alongside individual behaviour changes to reach the goals of the Paris Agreement and act in unison.

Implications and opportunities

Individual and collective behaviour change, particularly amongst the wealthiest, could include incentives for switching to e-mobility, phasing out the use of SUVs, reducing the frequency of flights, and incentivising improved insulation of homes. These behaviour changes could sit alongside government actions, targeted regulations, and nudges such as the former UK government scheme on air passenger duties or the Green Homes Grant scheme which further incentivise behaviour change. In addition, behaviour changes could be most effective when implemented in unison with technological improvements and cutting emissions across industries. It links to strategies such as planting trees to act as carbon sinks which are generally seen as more ‘popular’ than incentivising behaviour changes. However, it is important to note that any cuts in emissions through behaviour change or technology need to be based on fairness and not disproportionately disadvantage any societal groups.

Limitations

Individual or collective behaviour change is effective when treated as an additional measure to mitigating climate change; one that sits alongside other efforts at system level. In addition, measures for incentivising behaviour change should be adjusted to regional, national, and cultural needs to find acceptance within local communities and societal groups.


Sources

Harrabin, R., (2021). World’s wealthiest ‘at heart of climate problem’. Available at https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/science-environment-56723560

Cambridge Sustainability Commission. (2021). Changing our ways? Behaviour change and the climate crisis. Available at https://www.rapidtransition.org/wp-content/uploads/2021/04/Cambridge-Sustainability-Commission-on-Scaling-behaviour-change-report.pdf