The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has recently released its latest report titled `Climate Change 2022: Impacts, Adaptation and Vulnerability’. This is a rather detailed assessment report based on extensive literature review as has been the IPCC wont. In the aftermath of this report, usually the public attention has remained focused on technology and finance required for climate change mitigation and adaptation. Nevertheless, it is time that we not only take note of other hidden elements of overall gameplan but more importantly, start implementing them with the same earnestness as has been the case with technological solutions like renewable energy, green hydrogen, and electrical vehicles.
The foremost of these non-technology elements falls under lifestyle and behavioural change category. While these have been a topic of discussions for sometime now, perhaps it the first time when IPCC puts forward their importance in addressing climate change in an authoritative manner. The IPCC report presents a case for `Avoid, Shift, and Improve (ASI)’ as means for demand side mitigation through lifestyle and behavioural choices. If we scan climate action discourses, we would notice how supply-side dominant they are. Less resource-intensive lifestyles pivot on choices around food, conspicuous consumption – and the resultant wastages, mode of transport, and increased use of efficient appliances to name a few. `One Planet Plate’ is a worldwide restaurant campaign build around the premise that `More than a third of all man-made greenhouse gas emissions are generated by the food system. Directly and indirectly, the production and consumption of food is responsible for a majority of global greenhouse gas emissions, biodiversity loss and ill health. The food we choose, where it comes from, and how it ends up on our plate is one of the most impactful decisions for the future of our planet, and it is a choice that we make more than three times a day.
With higher disposable income comes the increasing trend of consuming imported food items in preference to locally harvested produces. Let us not forget that transportation over long distances do necessarily has carbon/GHG penalties. Then comes the food wastage, a worrying aspect of which pertains to the enourmous wastage, for instance in our social gatherings because of a simple reason, namely, to outshine all others in one’s social circle. It has been estimated that food losses and waste amounts to 6% of total global GHG emissions. And then there is the likely impact of quick delivery business models conflated with combos offers on climate change leading to wastage of food as well as increased carbon footprints on account of several delivery trips for a number of impulsive, fragmented orders. Used to as we have become in apportioning responsibilities on others, it becomes harder to own the responsibility for our own choices.
Besides these largely individual-level choices, IPCC report also talks about `telecommuting’ as a mean to reduce GHG emissions. Now, telecommuting’ or what is nowadays popularly known as `Work from Home (WfH)’ has more to do with the choices that the institutions and organizations have to make. As the post-pandemic period has shown, while most of the employees prefer WfH or at least a hybrid working model; it is the employers who oppose that. The ubiquitous productivity may be the stated reason to shift back to the old normal way of working, it seems more to do with the traditional mindsets and the associated idea of control. Thus, as is the case with the individual choices, even the institutional ones – including several of those very organizations that provide climate action advisory to others – it is all about the deep-rooted rigidity that requires motivation and nudges to alter the course.
The choice of transport in many cases is not about a personal choice at all but about the compulsions. And this brings me to another critical but largely ignored aspects of most of the climate action plans, namely, the urban systems. This aspect too has been dealt with in detail by IPCC assessment report. It suggests, as a mean to reduce carbon footprint of urban spaces, integrated spatial planning for compact and resource-efficient urban growth: compact cities with shortened distances between housing and jobs, encouraging a shift from motorized transport to non-motorized ones like walking and cycling. Where do our cities stand against this criterion? If we take National Capital Region (NCR) or any metropolitan cities in India we see our urban planning (if it can be termed as planning) going in an exactly opposite direction; sprawling ones with distant suburbs forcing very long commutes between homes and work places. So, here goes the choice of any non-motorized transport. But it does not end there. With badly designed, executed, and managed footpaths and pedestrian crossings; the citizens are forced to resort to motorized transport even for distances that otherwise could have been easily walkable. Indeed, I recall my visits abroad where I could walk very long distances simply because their streets beckoned me to walk. In contrast, our urban infrastructure seems to push us to make personal vehicles our default mode of transport.
However, it is time we realize that net-zero or 1.5-degree targets are not going to be achieved on the back of technological-fixes alone. The individuals as well as the institutions too will have to put in their might to address this vexed problem. IPCC assessment provides a clear direction in this regard.