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What individuals can do to curb climate change in the climate crisis: An IPCC’s author perspective

Blog | Thu, 15 Dec, 2022 · 7 min read
foto voor Inge Jonckhere

What individuals can really do to curb climate change

Climate issues are popping up more and more in our daily lives. From daily coverage of natural disasters, to the call for responsible consumption and reduced energy use, people are being increasingly confronted with climate issues in almost every aspect of our lives. As global citizens, we are smashed with the need to change our behavior. We must fly less, stop eating meat and buy fewer clothes. These adaptations have evoked a lot of resistance, and the finger is often pointed at big companies, big polluters or "the system." However, it is also up to each of us as individuals to change our habits to help ease the climate crisis and make sustainability a common habit.

This year, the seven-yearly IPCC report (Sixth Assessment Report) on the state of the climate was published, highlighting for the first time the importance of individual behavioural changes and showing that systemic change is not enough. There is enormous and essential value in individual behavioral change, despite the urgency for systematic change. We are living in a very unsustainably way on this planet. This applies not only to industry, but also to everyone, especially high consuming countries and the Global North. Individually, people can, and should, take action to turn the tide. We can drive less, fly less, use sustainable transportation, use less energy in our homes and eat less meat. In short, we really can change our lifestyle and contribute to the fight against climate change. All bits matter; every 0.1-degree matters.

Each small change contributes to reducing emissions. If these individual behavioural changes become the new normal, greenhouse gas emissions could be reduced by 40 to 70 percent by 2050.

One important example of individual behavioural change set out in the IPCC report is limiting meat consumption. The problem with intensive livestock production is methane emissions. In my personal view, the introduction of a sustainability tax could help incentivize individual behavioural change and thus reduce emissions. By making more sustainable products less expensive and taxing less sustainable products, we can make adjustments. People should pay more for unsustainable products; a sustainability tax on meat, for example, could be a step in the right direction.

It is a common misconception that cutting greenhouse gases is per definition linked to economic stagnation or even economic decline in developed countries. Until now, the general thinking has been: if a country wants to grow economically, emissions cannot be reduced. However, according to the latest IPCC report, some 24 countries have been able to grow economically over the past decade while reducing their national emissions by an average of 4 to 5 percent. It is the first time the economic growth of a country and reducing its emissions has been shown.

Our carbon budget, or the number of tonnes of CO₂ we can emit to stay below 1.5 degrees of warming, is running out. At the current rate, it will be used up in a decade or so. Even if we manage to halve emissions by 2030, it will be very tight.

Still, there is reason for optimism and confidence. From an energy perspective, technology is doing its part. Since 2010, for instance, the cost of wind and solar power has fallen permanently by about 85 percent. At the same time, capacity has skyrocketed. By 2019, 37 percent of global electricity will be generated by technologies that produce little or no carbon emissions. The UN-REDD Programme is supporting tropical forest countries in reducing emissions and fostering carbon sequestration, realizing forest solutions to the climate emergency while promoting enhanced agrifood systems, sustainable economies and the rights of Indigenous peoples and local communities. Together with other international and national initiatives, this has increased national and local capacities to tackle climate change through technology, innovation, policy and concrete actions on the ground.

The IPCC continues to insist on the urgency of addressing the climate crisis or even called climate emergency. We are at a crossroad, it is now or never. Individuals have a big role to play. It can be done; we can halve emissions by 2030. If only science, economics, politics and individual citizens would join hands.



Inge Jonckheere, IPCC Lead Author, WG III, Chapter 2