Who's going to Save us from the Climate Emergency?
As of September 2021: more than 30 countries, amounting to over 1 billion people, have declared a climate emergency. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report has stated that climate change is widespread, rapid and intensifying; the UN Secretary General has said it's a "code red for humanity" and there has been an unprecedented amount of damage done by climate disasters around the world. All evidence points to an existential threat and that brings many to the question: how to get out of it? Actually, it's not that complicated – it never has been – the IPCC has sketched several scenarios in which we reach Netzero by 2050 to avoid the greatest consequences of global warming. Other organisations, such as the International Energy Agency, have also created pathways. We have known about the climate emergency and crucial actions to take against it for at least 15 years. That's why the UN adopted the Kyoto Protocol 1997. That’s why the Paris Agreement was introduced in 2015, after failure to deliver the promises from Kyoto. Global emissions have only continued to increase. So the key question isn't how but who? My answer is: you, me and everyone, together.
Climate Change doesn't care about governments or companies. It doesn't recognise borders and it doesn't distribute itself based on history. There is no fairness or responsibility attribution. We are all in this together, whether we like it or not. So we all have to change together or we will all face the consequences. While many may not appreciate the idea of placing the burden on the individual citizen and would rather continue to entrust that to corporations and governments – I see no other way. As an individual you don't have the power or the finance to build a renewable electricity grid or make a factory carbon neutral - the governments and corporations will still be the ones to take that action. But we must be the ones who make them take it. Their power and finance doesn't appear in a vacuum, rather it is created by the individual citizen.
How do I make the government take climate action?
The power of governments comes from the votes on election day and public pressure everyday. To make a change you need to engage. Voting is the starting point but it doesn’t end there. Understanding the policies and proposals in your community, region or country and how these will affect the long-term future can enable you to form your opinion, voice it and ultimately use it to shape policy through pressure. Governments serve the people – a potential major contributor to the previous inaction is perceived lack of societal support or pressure. It seems to be more than just a perception – a CATO study from 2019 found 68% of Americans Wouldn’t Pay $10 a Month in Higher Electric Bills to Combat Climate Change. Long term thinking is crucial, as not spending is only a procrastination and escalation of the issue. The money spent now to reduce climate change is far less than the money we will need if we ignore the issue. Every flood, every forest fire, hurricane or drought costs local governments the money we can’t afford.
What do I need to do make industry sustainable?
For corporations their power comes from the customers’ purchases and the value created by their employees. Anyone can change any company by becoming a conscious consumer. Every penny you spend is a vote and an investment in the whole supply chain of the product. You can choose to invest sustainably - sometimes this will cost more and sometimes this will be a little less convenient. Just as with governments it's about short term sacrifice on the things you decide in order to prevent long term damage that you will not control. One way of being a conscious consumer is using the 5R's of circular economy as a guiding principle: Rethink, Reduce, Reuse, Repair and Recycle. For example, with Rethink, an outfit you wanted to wear for one party could come from your friend’s closet. When consumers live these principles, the industry will be forced to adapt because in the end companies are about making money.
You can also change the organisation you work for, from the inside, so that they don't wait for new consumer behaviour or legislation. The success of an organisation is generated by the services and products which are provided and/or created by the employees. As employees you can pressure organisations to change; you can propose the ways in which the organisation can become more sustainable and ultimately you can choose to work for companies that act in line with sustainable values.
What we need is urgent action and not an act. Sustainability must become our way of life, reflected in every day, in every choice.
Energy Voices is a democratic space presenting the thoughts and opinions of leading Energy & Sustainability writers, their opinions do not necessarily represent those of illuminem.
About the author
Thaddeus Anim-Somuah is an Executive Board Member at the European Federation of Chemical Engineering and Engineering Manager Projects at Cargill. Besides, he is an EU Commission Climate Pact Ambassador and Ambassador for the World Energy Council Future Energy Leader.