Of Course we can Reach the 1,5 Degree Target!

Of Course, we can Reach the 1.5 Degree Target!

Harari describes in Sapiens one of the things that makes us humans so great and powerful: we can unite behind stories. With unity comes collaboration and the achievement of incredible goals. What seems to be our most challenging task so far is making sure we limit global warming to no more than a 1.5 degree rise.

In the latest IPCC report, we learned that we need to cut all emissions in half before 2030. This is before my now newborn son turns 12 years old. It sounds impossible considering what we have achieved in the last decades. But what if there was a way we can all unite behind the same story of what we want our future to look like?

The first story that should unite us is how we can effectively reduce global emissions.

How do We Calculate Global Emissions?

First, we need to understand how global emissions can be reported from both a territorial perspective and a consumption perspective. The territorial perspective is the most common way to report on - where you basically add up all the emissions of a certain area under certain control. But it makes it easier to blame bigger countries, such as China, because they a lot of territorial emissions. 

This is quite unfair because we have a much higher individual footprint in the Western world than the average Chinese, based on our consumption. The products we choose to spend money on are very often produced in another country. This adds to that country's territorial footprint, and we pass the blame somewhere else. But both our territorial-based footprint and our consumption-based footprint need to be cut in half by 2030.

See this short animation to better understand the difference between the territorial and consumption perspective.

On average we all need to cut our emissions in half the next 12 years, and it can be done if we reduce our footprints by about 5% every year. 

How can we Reach the 1.5 Degree Target?

Like with all development, it starts with pioneers. First, a few individuals drastically reduce their personal footprints. They reduce it by up to 25% without reducing their quality of life. By focusing on the little things, like repairing more stuff instead of buying new goods. They increase their handprints by inspiring others to follow their lead. For example: Giving a Christmas gift voucher from a local craftsman to encourage a family member to buy locally.

When more people start prioritizing sustainability when buying, demand for sustainable solutions increases. Local craftsmen reduces their footprint making quality furniture last a lifetime, and increase their handprints repairing furniture made by others. Not only will this reduce our emissions drastically, but it will also create new local workplaces.

We already see these changes with large corporations. Just look at IKEA. They work hard to reduce their emissions from internal production and operations. They increase their handprint by selling only LED lights and launch campaigns like their Start at home campaign, where they gave concrete advice for how their customers could reduce their footprint at home.

In this way, industry will have a huge effect on all of our footprints, but only after we demand it. If we buy products that last longer, that can be repaired and that uses less energy we can force industry to develop these products. All of a sudden we have a feedback loop where your footprint is reduced without any extra effort.

And finally, we have our politicians, who can reinforce this transition incredibly fast. If they all push in the same direction. The most proactive politicians will be elected when demand for sustainable politics increase.

These politicians use their enormous public budgets to reduce footprints. For example by building schools with the lowest possible emissions. In this way, they are setting new building standards. They can increase their handprints by ensuring that we have access to bike roads, clean energy and societal regulations that make it easy for everyone to live a good life with minimum carbon emission.

How Does the Story End?

If you make a few habit changes in the next three years you can easily reduce your footprint by 25%. If you use your consumer power to choose both politicians and industry that work for the same, you can help ensure structural changes.

This leads to a lower carbon society where others will live more sustainably by default. It's not going to be easy, but being part of the same optimistic story can be both meaningful and interesting. With this story I actually believe we will make the impossible possible!

Mads Simonsen

Climate Action