By: George Kurzom
1% of humanity owns half of the world's wealth
Exclusive to Environment and Development Horizons (Afaq magazine):
The work of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) - which is the United Nations body for assessing the science related to climate change - does not only work on developing models of the atmosphere or analyzing several climate measures; It prepares comprehensive Assessment Reports about the state of scientific, technical and socio-economic knowledge on climate change.
Any success in the battle against climate change is a step towards preventing pollution and stopping the destruction of biodiversity, which are two environmental threats to the future of human existence.
The nearly 3,000-page report prepared by the team of scientists and issued in March 2022 is written in a somewhat somber tone, but it offers quite a few important insights and diagnoses.
The report deals with methodology guidelines and strategies to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by “prevention, change, and improvement of behavior”.
It seems, at first glance, that everything is measured in tons of gases, but in practice, we are talking about socio-economic changes and the development of appropriate infrastructure and technologies.
UN scientists are not radical enough to propose far-reaching political and economic changes, unlike many other environmental scientists, experts, and historians who believe it is impossible to deal with the environmental and climate crisis without changing the way capitalist wealth is accumulated.
Some see the solution in emphasizing the importance of leaving a large part of nature unexploited by humans, while at the same time working on moving towards a decline in the world's population through family planning methods and women's empowerment.
UN scientists focus on intermediate paths, which are supposed to lead the world to more moderate economic growth and provide a decent standard of living in developing countries.
In fact, even the relatively moderate measures proposed by UN scientists are far-reaching compared to current lifestyle and consumption habits, especially among the wealthier of the population.
The critical intersection between social justice and environmental sustainability
In the context of talking about changes in basic lifestyles and socio-economic behavior, we can point to abandoning long flights, which is an example of preventive action that leads to a significant reduction in emissions, and the major change in energy for reducing emissions lies in shifting towards a vegetarian diet.
Moreover, significant improvement must take place in the construction sector, specifically the construction of energy-efficient buildings. Huge changes and improvements are mainly required in the advanced industrial world, while the poorer part of the world must, before anything else, be provided with basic needs in transport, housing, energy, and food.
From a global analytical perspective, the more equal human societies are in the allocation of resources and level of income, and also the more democratic they are, the greater the chances of reducing greenhouse gas emissions.
The hypothesis here is that societies like these are better mobilized to achieve environmental goals for all citizens, knowing that societies with justice and true social equality, far from corruption in all its forms, will greatly reduce the amount of extreme wealth enjoyed by the minority. But at the same time, the level of general well-being will increase.
When considering the possibility of making further changes at the individual level, the choice of mode of transport has the largest impact on emissions reduction, out of 60 actions in different areas that the scientists studied.
A shift towards walking, cycling, and electric vehicle use could cut two tons of carbon emissions per capita per year.
The shift towards a “Mediterranean” diet, based mainly on vegetables, fruits, and legumes, leads to improvement in per capita emissions, as well as health benefits.
Also, the choice of durable goods is an important individual decision, and some decisions in certain areas, such as the choice of place of residence and food consumption, can be applied with the help of governmental or international regulations.
For example, government planning policy can impose restrictions on the number of detached homes that are allowed to be built on specific lots. In other words, interference with personal freedom of choice is required, a freedom that allows us to spend as we please and travel as we please.
The transformation required in this context is challenging, especially when considering potential scenarios of change.
One scenario is a circular economy, where products and raw materials remain in continuous use without turning into waste.
Such an economy has not yet succeeded in making a significant impact, as it turns out that recycling or extending the life of a product is not enough; In the end, the quantity of raw materials exploited by humans must be reduced, which requires changing the model of infinite economic growth.
Using behavioral science to change habits can contribute, to a limited extent, to making change. For example, the use of “NUDGE” (light push), which relies on marketing green ideas about products, disseminating information about the environmental consequences, and highlighting the economic benefits of using more economical products, especially since the overall effect of small catalysts can result in a reduction of 5% to 6% in greenhouse gas emissions per household.
In the context of the climate crisis, most personal decisions aimed at protecting the environment, including waste recycling, have limited impact.
Most people don't make the tougher choices, such as avoiding flights. In recent years, the consumption of polluting, fuel-guzzling private vehicles, such as front-wheel-drive sports cars, has increased. This crossed out the amount of carbon emissions avoided by using electric cars.
Unfortunately, we are still trapped in the illusion that technological improvements and innovations will save the situation and allow us to continue the lifestyle to which we are accustomed, without any change or compromise.
Translated by: Rasha Abu Dayyeh