In a report published in September 2018, the world’s leading climate scientists made their starkest warning so far: our current actions are not enough for us to meet our target of 1.5C of warming. We need to do more.
It’s settled science that climate change is real, and we’re starting to see some of the ways that it affects us. It increases the likelihood of flooding in Miami and elsewhere, threatens the millions of people living along the Brahmaputra River in north-eastern India and disrupts the sex life of plants and animals.
So we don’t need to ask whether climate change is happening – or whether humans are causing it. Instead, we need to ask: “what can we do?”
What can you do that will have the biggest impact? Here’s our guide.
1. What is the single most important thing humanity has to do in the coming years – and what does that mean for me?
The number one goal? Limiting the use of fossil fuels such as oil, carbon and natural gas and replacing them with renewable and cleaner sources of energy, all while increasing energy efficiency. “We need to cut CO2 emissions almost in half (45%) by the end of the next decade,” says Kimberly Nicholas, associate professor of sustainability science at the Lund University Centre for Sustainability Studies (LUCSUS), in Sweden.
The road towards that transition includes daily decisions within your reach – like driving and flying less, switching to a ‘green’ energy provider and changing what you eat and buy.
Of course, it’s true that climate change won’t be solved by your buying or driving habits alone – although many experts agree these are important, and can influence others to make changes too (more on that later). Other changes are needed that can only be made on a bigger, system-wide basis – like revamping our subsidy system for the energy and food industries, which continue to reward fossil fuels, or setting new rules and incentives for sectors like farming, deforestation and waste management.
One good example of the importance of this regards refrigerants. An advocacy group of researchers, business-people and NGOs called Drawdown found that getting rid of HFCs (chemicals used in fridges and air conditioning) was the number-one most effective policy to reduce emissions.That’s because they are up to 9,000 more warming for the atmosphere than CO2. The good news is that we have made global progress on this, and two years ago 170 countries agreed to start phasing out HFCs in 2019.
This is important because we need “unprecedented changes in all aspects of society to deal with climate change, says the IPCC report. “Everyone is going to have to be involved," says Debra Robert, co-chair of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), the group tasked with the report.
2. Changing how industries are run or subsidized doesn’t sound like anything I can influence... can I?
You can. Individuals need to exercise their rights both as citizens and as consumers, Robert and other experts say, putting pressure on their governments and on companies to make the system-wide changes that are needed.
Another way, increasingly undertaken by universities, faith groups and recently even at a countrywide level, is to ‘divest’ funds out of polluting activities – such as avoiding stocks in fossil fuels, or banks that invest in high-emission industries. By getting rid of financial instruments related to the fossil fuel industry, organisations can both take climate action and reap economic benefits.
3. Other than that, what’s the best daily action I can take?
One 2017 study co-authored by Lund University’s Nicholas ranked 148 individual actions on climate change according to their impact. Going car-free was the number-one most effective action an individual could take (except not having kids – but more on that on that later). Cars are more polluting compared to other means of transportation like walking, biking or using public transport.