Julie de Vaan
Climate change: from plans and ambitions to action
Updated: Apr 11, 2022
Combating climate change even after the climate conference
Slowly but surely, the impact of climate change is becoming more and more clear. Most Dutch people are concerned about the consequences and think that the government is not paying enough attention to this (Ipsos/NOS, 2021). But the climate conference put climate change high on the political agenda for a moment. And the message was clear: we must fight climate change!
Yet only a small share of Dutch people is confident that concrete actions will follow from this (Ipsos/NOS, 2021). Unfortunately, expressing great plans and ambitions does not provide any guarantee that we will limit global warming to 1.5 degrees. If we really want to make an impact, the two biggest challenges from a behavioural perspective are maintaining a sense of urgency and taking responsibility.
1: Maintaining urgency
Attention to climate change fades quickly, and putting this theme high on the (political) agenda, does not yield much in the short term. That makes it difficult to keep the urgency high.
During the climate conference, climate is the only thing that's on the agenda. On day one, the climate is top priority for every world leader that is present. We must combat climate change at all costs. But before the last day arrives, it is clear that "at all costs" does not hold. Other matters, especially the financial side effects of saving our planet, seem to be more urgent.
In addition, world leaders are only human. As soon as the climate conference is over and they get back home, they fall back into old patterns, just like everyone else. At the climate conference, for example, Rutte is the man of "action, action, action". But in the Netherlands, he is the liberal prime minister who wants to get rid of dividend tax to keep Shell located in the Netherlands.
Other more local “short-term problems” will also demand attention after the conference. People are simply better at short-term thinking and prefer actions that lead to results in the short term. They are particularly sensitive to this in politics. This is because of the way our political system is structured: making short-term promises provides better chances to get more votes, than making important long-term plans. This is all at the expense of the urgency to do something about climate change.
2: Taking responsibility
The second challenge has to do with discussion about responsibility. It's easy to hold someone else responsible, but we need to take responsibility ourselves to make a real impact.
Who will take the next step? The government, large companies, citizens, consumers? Our research shows that the responsibility of people and the responsibility of organizations are strongly connected. This makes it easy for each party to shift their responsibility towards others: "I can only change if you change too". Or "if you don't change, there's no use for me to change". People and organizations wait and see what the other parties do, and they keep relying on the support and action of the other.
While these parties can also reinforce each other. If people take responsibility themselves, this gives organizations the feeling that they have sufficient support to become more sustainable. When organizations take responsibility, it gives people the feeling that they can really make an impact themselves. This encourages both parties to take more responsibility. This way, they reinforce each other.
The government must therefore make strict rules for CO2 emissions, even before citizens ask for it because their houses are flooding. But citizens must also make their homes more sustainable before they are obliged to get rid of gas. Supermarkets must stop offering great deals on meat, even if consumers still like it. But consumers should also buy less animal products, although these are still available in the supermarket.
So instead of shifting responsibility and waiting for another party to take action, we should all take action. Right now. This way we reinforce each other's impact and we can really combat climate change.
To ensure that we convert plans and ambitions into actions that really combat climate change, it is important that we uphold urgency and take responsibility.
The Dutch mainly hold large companies responsible for action to combat climate change. They also hold the government accountable. But they consider themselves and other people less responsible (Motivation/EZK, 2021). But to keep the urgency high and avoid shifting responsibility, we need to look at it differently. After all, there is no company or government that functions on its own. No company or government which in itself causes or combats climate change. Organizations consist of and represent people. People who have the choice and influence to change something. People who can put topics such as the climate on the agenda. People who all have an impact on the climate.
So it's important not to see climate change in terms of government, companies, citizens or consumers, but in terms of our role as human beings. We humans cause climate change and must combat it in order to keep the earth livable for ourselves. That is why we should no longer discuss who is responsible or who should take the first step, but we should always act in our own role as human beings. Even when we are also an "employee", "minister" or "director of a large organization". We are all people who benefit from reducing climate change and we can all contribute to a solution. This involves eating less meat at home, offering more vegetarian options in the workplace, and charging a fair price for animal products in the supermarket. But also about which political party we vote for, whether we act sustainably within our tasks at work, and whether we have a clear and unambiguous sustainability policy. Ultimately, it is about the behaviour we show as citizens, as consumers, as employees, as directors and as prime minister.
What are you going to do to save our world?
Ipsos/NOS (2021) Most Dutch people worried about climate change, little confidence in top
Motivation/EZK (2021) Public Monitor Climate and Energy 2021 Motivaction