This piece was originally published on 16 December 2021 and the latest update is based on UNEP's ActNow Speak Up! campaign.
The evidence is irrefutable: unless we act immediately to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, we will not be able to stave off the worst consequences of climate change.
The world is already 1.2°C warmer than pre-industrial times and every fraction of a degree counts. Research shows that with 2°C of global warming we will have more intense droughts and more devastating floods, more wildfires and more storms.
As United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres said at the recent UN Climate Change Conference of the Parties (COP26), “Our fragile planet is hanging by a thread. We are still knocking on the door of climate catastrophe. It is time to go into emergency mode — or our chance of reaching net-zero will itself be zero.”
The outlook can seem depressing. But the good news is that there is a lot we can still do as individuals to change this narrative.
“The climate emergency demands action from all of us. We need to get to net zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050 and everyone has a role to play,” said Niklas Hagelberg, UNEP’s Climate Change Coordinator. “We, as individuals, must change our consumption habits and pressure those who represent us – our employers, our politicians – to move rapidly to a low-carbon world.”
Here are 10 ways you can be part of the climate solution:
Photo: Unsplash / Becca Tapert
1. Spread the word
Encourage your friends, family and co-workers to reduce their carbon pollution. Join a global movement like Count Us In, which aims to inspire 1 billion people to take practical steps and challenge their leaders to act more boldly on climate. Organizers of the platform say that if 1 billion people took action, they could reduce as much as 20 per cent of global carbon emissions. Or you could sign up to the UN’s #ActNow campaign on climate change and sustainability and add your voice to this critical global debate.
Photo: Unsplash / Callum Shaw
2. Keep up the political pressure
Lobby local politicians and businesses to support efforts to cut emissions and reduce carbon pollution. #ActNow Speak Up has sections on political pressure and corporate action - and Count Us In also has some handy tips for how to do this. Pick an environmental issue you care about, decide on a specific request for change and then try to arrange a meeting with your local representative. It might seem intimidating but your voice deserves to be heard. If humanity is to succeed in tackling the climate emergency, politicians must be part of the solution. It’s up to all of us to keep up with the pressure.
Photo: Unsplash / Coen van de Broek
3. Transform your transport
Transport accounts for around a quarter of all greenhouse gas emissions and across the world, many governments are implementing policies to decarbonize travel. You can get a head start: leave your car at home and walk or cycle whenever possible. If the distances are too great, choose public transport, preferably electric options. If you must drive, offer to carpool with others so that fewer cars are on the road. Get ahead of the curve and buy an electric car. Reduce the number of long-haul flights you take.
Photo: Unsplash / Jeremy Bezanger
4. Rein in your power use
If you can, switch to a zero-carbon or renewable energy provider. Install solar panels on your roof. Be more efficient: turn your heating down a degree or two, if possible. Switch off appliances and lights when you are not using them and better yet buy the most efficient products in the first place (hint: this will save you money!). Insulate your loft or roof: you’ll be warmer in the winter, cooler in the summer and save some money too.
Photo: Unsplash / Jo Sonn
5. Tweak your diet
Eat more plant-based meals – your body and the planet will thank you. Today, around 60 per cent of the world’s agricultural land is used for livestock grazing and people in many countries are consuming more animal-sourced food than is healthy. Plant-rich diets can help reduce chronic illnesses, such as heart disease, stroke, diabetes and cancer.
Photo: Unsplash / Artur Rutkowski
The climate emergency demands action from all of us. We need to get to net zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050 and everyone has a role to play.
Niklas Hagelberg, UNEP’s Climate Change Coordinator
6. Shop local and buy sustainable
To reduce your food’s carbon footprint, buy local and seasonal foods. You’ll be helping small businesses and farms in your area and reducing fossil fuel emissions associated with transport and cold chain storage. Sustainable agriculture uses up to 56 per cent less energy, creates 64 per cent fewer emissions and allows for greater levels of biodiversity than conventional farming. Go one step further and try growing your own fruit, vegetables and herbs. You can plant them in a garden, on a balcony or even on a window sill. Set up a community garden in your neighbourhood to get others involved.
Photo: Unsplash / Charles Deluvio
7. Don’t waste food
One-third of all food produced is either lost or wasted. According to UNEP’s Food Waste Index Report 2021, people globally waste 1 billion tonnes of food each year, which accounts for around 8-10 per cent of global greenhouse gas emissions. Avoid waste by only buying what you need. Take advantage of every edible part of the foods you purchase. Measure portion sizes of rice and other staples before cooking them, store food correctly (use your freezer if you have one), be creative with leftovers, share extras with your friends and neighbours and contribute to a local food-sharing scheme. Make compost out of inedible remnants and use it to fertilize your garden. Composting is one of the best options for managing organic waste while also reducing environmental impacts.
Photo: Pexels / Teona Swift
8. Dress (climate) smart
The fashion industry accounts for 8-10 per cent of global carbon emissions – more than all international flights and maritime shipping combined – and ‘fast fashion’ has created a throwaway culture that sees clothes quickly end up in landfills. But we can change this. Buy fewer new clothes and wear them longer. Seek out sustainable labels and use rental services for special occasions rather than buying new items that will only be worn once. Recycle pre-loved clothes and repair when necessary.
Photo: Unsplash / Geran de Klerk
9. Plant trees
Every year approximately 12 million hectares of forest are destroyed and this deforestation, together with agriculture and other land use changes, is responsible for roughly 25 per cent of global greenhouse gas emissions. We can all play a part in reversing this trend by planting trees, either individually or as part of a collective. For example, the Plant-for-the-Planet initiative allows people to sponsor tree-planting around the world.
Check out this UNEP guide to see what else you can do as part of the UN Decade on Ecosystem Restoration, a global drive to halt the degradation of land and oceans, protect biodiversity, and rebuild ecosystems.
Photo: Unsplash / RawFilm
10. Focus on planet-friendly investments
Individuals can also spur change through their savings and investments by choosing financial institutions that do not invest in carbon-polluting industries. #ActNow Speak Up has a section on money and so does Count Us In. This sends a clear signal to the market and already many financial institutions are offering more ethical investments, allowing you to use your money to support causes you believe in and avoid those you don’t. You can ask your financial institution about their responsible banking policies and find out how they rank in independent research.
UNEP is at the front in support of the Paris Agreement goal of keeping the global temperature rise well below 2°C, and aiming - to be safe - for 1.5°C, compared to pre-industrial levels. To do this, UNEP has developed a Six-Sector Solution. The Six Sector Solution is a roadmap to reducing emissions across sectors in line with the Paris Agreement commitments and in pursuit of climate stability. The six sectors identified are Energy; Industry; Agriculture & Food; Forests & Land Use; Transport; and Buildings & Cities.
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