A stark new report from the global scientific authority on climate change calls on individuals, as well as governments, to take action to avoid disastrous levels of global warming.
The report, which maps out four pathways to cap Earth’s average surface temperature at 1.5 degrees Celsius (2.7 degrees Fahrenheit) above pre-industrial levels indicates that changes in individual behavior can make a difference.
But to do that, the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) says, would require “rapid, far-reaching and unprecedented changes in all aspects of society.”
The IPCC’s models emphasize the need for people to change their lifestyle and consumption patterns to more sustainable alternatives, specifically in areas they can control, like modes of transportation, the buildings they inhabit and their dietary preferences.
“It’s a really new way for the IPCC to report on mitigation pathways, the carbon budgets are so tight for 1.5C that we need drastic action on the policy scale, the business and industry scale, but also on the part of consumers,” World Wildlife Fund’s lead climate scientist, Chris Weber, told CNN.
Asked whether consumers can help meet this goal, Weber responded: “Unequivocally, yes.”
Here’s what consumers can do
Transportation: In order to meet the 1.5C goal, the IPCC envisages a future where people travel less, and that generally consumer preferences shift to more sustainable choices like car sharing and hybrid and electric cars. The report also looks at using more efficient modes of travel, e.g. swapping cars, trucks and planes to buses and trains.
Buildings: While this section is less prescriptive, the IPCC suggests that people shift to more sustainable behavior when it comes to their homes, for example using smart thermostats or more efficient air conditioners.
Diets: Again, the models aren’t comprehensive, but in general, the IPCC’s narrative suggests that people consume about 30% less animal products. Eating less meat is one of a number of mitigation strategies suggested by the IPCC to overhaul agricultural and land-use practices, including the protection of forests. The livestock sector is estimated to account for 14.5% of greenhouse gas emissions globally, more than direct emissions from the transport sector.
These so-called shared socioeconomic pathways (SSPs), which focus on mitigation of and adaptation to climate change, are a fairly new innovation and draw a new dimension to climate modeling: the impact of changes in human behavior.
“It’s very clear just by looking at the archetypical pathways that they’ve [IPCC] pulled out … that the consumer dimensions allow emissions to be cut much faster,” Weber said.