How we can equitably and quickly distribute the world’s limited and fast-shrinking global carbon budget? Find out in our podcast.
CREDS in conversation
This podcast explores how we can equitably and quickly distribute the world’s limited and fast-shrinking global carbon budget. A recent report from the Hot or Cool Institute, Towards a fair consumption space for all, pdfOpens in a new tab, features options that may once have seemed radical but may now be the only alternative to climate catastrophe.
In conversation, Professor Yael Parag, Dr Yamina Saheb and Dr Stuart Capstick, with Dr Sarah Higginson.
Sarah Higginson: [00:00:00] Hello everybody and welcome to this podcast on realistically radical policy options. This podcast is part of an international series called CREDS in conversation. CREDS is the Centre for Research into Energy Demand Solutions, funded by the UK Research Innovations Energy Programme. In CREDS we are interested in how, why, and when people use energy in all its forms and believe reducing demand is essential to us reaching our net-zero target.
Our conversation today will centre on ways to equitably and quickly distribute the world’s limited and fast shrinking global carbon budget, which is one of the critical challenges of our time. This question is addressed by a recent report from the Hot or Cool Institute’s Towards a fair consumption space for all report. It features options that may once have seemed radical, but now maybe the only alternative to climate catastrophe. We are speaking to some of the authors of that report. My name is Sarah Higginson, I’m the research Knowledge Exchange manager at CREDS, and I will be moderating the [00:01:00] conversation today.
With me I have three speakers. Professor Yael Parag is the Vice Dean of the IDC School of Sustainability at Reichman University in Israel. Her research focuses on energy, user behavior, and how people interact with energy systems.
Dr. Yamina Saheb is a senior energy policy analyst at Open X, which advises governments and businesses on how to implement the Sustainable Development Goals. She is also an IPCC lead author for Chapter 9 on Buildings.
Dr. Stuart Capstick is Deputy Director of CAST, the Centre for Climate and Social Transformation. He also works with the Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research and is an author on the Lancet Countdown on Health and Climate. His research is interested in how people understand and act on climate change.
Welcome to the three of you and thanks so much for joining us here today. We’ll start by introducing some basic ideas. Yael, could you please start by explaining personal carbon allowances and how they [00:02:00] might help speed up our response to the climate crisis?
Yamina Saheb: Hi, so personal carbon allowance or PCA is a mitigation policy that tackles emissions generated by households.
These emissions usually are not tackled by any other policy. In this policy, each individual receives an allocation of carbon allowances or what we call a carbon budget on an equal per capita basis. The budget covers emissions from electricity, from natural gas or heating, transport and flights. The carbon units are deducted from the personal carbon budget every time energy is used.
For example, when you pay your electricity bill, you have to pay for the kilowatt hours that you consume, but also to surrender the associated carbon units from your account. If you’re very efficient, by the end of the year, you will have extra units, which you could sell in the personal carbon market. But then if you’re a very carbon [00:03:00] intensive consumer, you will run out of units and have to buy extra units from the market.
This means that your consumption becomes more expensive. The argument is that this could help speed up the response to climate change because PCA will increase carbon visibility, so it’ll increase the carbon awareness of people and it’ll gear up also innovation solutions to low carbon constraints.
So, when we say that people will not give up their wellbeing, but instead prefer low carbon alternatives and because there will be demand for low carbon alternatives which currently is not the case, the business sector will provide sub-solutions and this way will speed up the transition.
Sarah Higginson: Great. Thanks Yael. Yamina, could you explain what you mean by sufficiency and tell us why it’s important?
Yael Parag: So sufficiency policies are all the measures that avoid at [00:04:00] the demand for energy, materials, land, water, and other natural resources. I give you an example. So, in our countries we had urban. sprawl that encouraged policies to encourage single family homes. And as a result of that, we used more soil, so it created an issue, more land [use]. We used more water and we needed more construction materials. And if you live in a single-family home, your energy consumption is much higher than if you live in a multi-family building. So, sufficiency measures are all the measures that would avoid this kind of solution.
They go beyond the energy issues, beyond energy policies. And that’s why maybe it is challenging because they look at land use and urban policies, which we are not used to considering in climate mitigation policies.
Sarah Higginson: Great, thanks Yamina. And Stuart, your work is about the psychology of climate change and how people can take [00:05:00] action to address it. Could you explain a little bit about that?
Stuart Capstick: Yeah, sure. So, I work as you said, in the Centre for Climate Change and Social Transformations. We have a range of social scientists working in there. So my background is in psychology, but as you said, I work with sociologists, policy experts and so on.
Across our centre, we believe that major social transformations are necessary to tackle the climate crisis. So, we have this kind of guiding question across all of our different projects, which is how can we live differently, and better, in ways that meet the need for radical climate action?
So, we’re trying to look to solutions which both [reduce] carbon emissions rapidly and urgently but are also alert to people’s wellbeing and quality of life. Now, in terms of how people can take action to address climate change, we talk in the Centre about people as agents of change.
We try to think in [00:06:00] of our concepts and our studies in terms of people being part of changing society, not just having a kind of small, individualised responsibility to do some recycling or some other bits and pieces, but that we need a new way of thinking about how we engage with the climate crisis.
And so I’m personally very interested in trying to find ways to bring together thinking about both the sort of individual and behavioral level of action to tackle climate change, and the more social and systemic level because I feel strongly that those two things interact – if you change the kind of social conditions or infrastructure or any of the circumstances that lead us to act in certain ways. For example, if you have a rubbish bus service, people won’t get on buses, whatever you might want them to do. But also, if we can change those circumstances, whether that’s through our own action to [00:07:00] push local politics, working with communities, being one of the people who gets on their bike, travel and so on.
So, I’m very interested in how we sort of bridge what’s often seen as a bit of a dichotomy between the individual and systemic levels.
Sarah Higginson: Brilliant. Thanks very much. So, these ideas are all basically designed to influence how people and communities behave and consume energy and resources. So, I’m interested in how these are different from the way that policy is framed now, and why do you think that these kinds of ideas would be an improvement? So, I’ll just go around and ask you to each respond to that in turn. So, Yamina, we’ll start with you first.
Yamina Saheb: Yeah, so for sufficiency, actually our climate policies do not consider sufficiency measures. So, what we had in the last three or four decades, depends on the country, is encouraging urban sprawl, so encouraging at the same time single-family homes and [00:08:00] individual cars, the use of individual cars instead of encouraging multi-family buildings and the use of public transport or shared mobility – actually, this is what sufficiency is about. And one thing that we see when we look at climate scenarios is that at some point the modellers will say to you that there are some sectors that you cannot decarbonise, so you have residual emissions from these sectors, but actually you cannot decarbonise these sectors if you keep thinking of these sectors in the way they are today. In reality, as citizens we don’t necessarily need a car, we have a mobility need. So if you look at it from our needs perspective, we have a mobility need, a nutrition need, a shelter need, and we don’t necessarily need a car, we don’t necessarily need junk food with plenty of chemicals. We don’t necessarily need huge houses far away in the suburbs and then we become car dependent. So, if you look at all human activities [00:09:00] from a human needs perspective, while wellbeing is where we guarantee wellbeing, then you see that some of the activities are not needed, must change. We must change these activities. Unfortunately, this is not yet taken into account. We are not yet there.
Sarah Higginson: No, indeed. Yael, Can I come to you next?
Yael Parag: So essentially today, individuals are not encouraged to change their behavior or lifestyle. And the policy method is that the technology can do it for us, we will decarbonise supply, will have much more renewable energy, low carbon energy in our supply stream. And in terms of demand, we become more efficient. So, we will be able do the same as we do today, but with less energy input. However, this does not deliver the reductions, emissions reductions, which are needed, and therefore we need to add some other layer. Now, PCA treats energy users differently. First of all, if the existing approach [00:10:00] treats energy users merely as consumers, this means that they use an economic rationale. They apply economic rationale to the decision-making, and we will try to convince them to change their behavior by highlighting how much money they can save if they use less energy.
So, the message is save money and as a bonus, you will also save the environment. However, with PCA, we use a different approach to people. People are not energy users, they are first of all citizens, and as citizens, they have responsibility. They have obligations. They are part of the problem, and therefore they should be engaged in solving the problems that we are all creating. It’s not blaming people, it’s just bringing the understanding that actually we have to solve the problem. And it’s not them. It’s not the technology, it’s us, and therefore we are moving away from only [00:11:00] providing a price signal to encourage people to change the behavior. So, the message here is, first of all, save the environment, and as a bonus, hopefully we will also be able to save money. So, the main, I think, the fundamental difference is that we are treating energy users first of all as citizens and as such, we have the right to ask them to do more than be passive and react to price signals.
Sarah Higginson: Yes, great, indeed. Stuart, what about you?
Stuart Capstick: Yeah, I mean, I would agree with what Yael has just said. I think in policy at the moment, citizen participation in taking action is very minimal. The emphasis is on the supply side and technology, which is of course is important, but it worries me that we don’t have the necessary or honest conversations about how people need to be involved in this transition.
And [00:12:00] of course, you know, the IPCC and the UK’s Committee on Climate Change are clear that we do need those, whether you call it demand side measures or people involved in mitigation. So, I think at the moment if people are involved at all in this from the point of view of policy, then it tends to be in terms of very small scale, individualistic, voluntary action, you know, recycling always comes up, things like that. But we are avoiding, or policy is avoiding having that sort of more in-depth conversation and there’s a reluctance, I think, to be seen to interfere in people’s lives and interfere in their freedoms.
But actually, I think we can have a much more sort of mature and grown-up conversation and approach to this, if you look at something like how smoking rates were pushed down. You know, you can look at smoking and say, well, it’s an individual’s choice to put something in their mouth and set fire to it, if they want to damage their health they can. But at the same time, it is [00:13:00] a societal problem, it’s a health problem. It’s not just about individual choice. And this has been a case where there have been successes and while smoking is a very different thing from carbon emissions, there are lessons that you can’t just achieve change by the right sort of communications or asking people nicely, or let’s say, quote, ‘voluntary change’.
Now, this was about cultural shifts, changes in laws, changes in pricing and so and so forth. So, it can be done, but we are not going to get the necessary. citizen participation in this without far-reaching policy across different levels. So that’s what appeals to me about a personal carbon allowance scheme.
There are a lot of reasons why it would be both politically and technically a very challenging idea, but it does tick some of the boxes as Yael suggested about citizens being more involved [00:14:00] in addressing these issues.
Sarah Higginson: Yamina, you have something to add?
Yamina Saheb: Yeah, about citizen’s involvement in policymaking. There are two interesting experiences at the EU-level. We have the better regulation principles that the European Commission applies, and based on these better regulation principles, each time the European Commission makes a proposal it is posted online and everyone could submit his or her proposal. And when you look at it, what is interesting, it looks like it works very well.
So, you have plenty of submissions and then you have analysis of the submissions. And then what is interesting is that you always have the mainstream ideas popping up from this consultation. It’s when you look at the details, then you realise that usually what you have are mainly industry associations, industry, think tanks paid by industry, and then maybe you have two or three answers that come from citizens. So, this kind of counting is a bit [00:15:00] bit dangerous. So, it looks like we are doing the right things, but in reality, we are not because how many EU citizens are all the time looking to the website of the Urban Commission?
And usually, all these proposals are made in English. How many EU citizens could answer a proposal, a technical proposal, usually that is in English? This is one experience where we have to be careful. There is another one that we had in France, but I think you also had it in the UK, it’s the Citizen Climate Assembly.
So, we had this assembly by nominated people representing, it was quite diverse, representing almost all social categories from society. They have been meeting for almost a year. They did come up with 150 proposals and some of the proposals are controversial in French society, or at least they were sold to us as controversial by those who are communication experts.
And one of them is, for example, related to making [00:16:00] energy innovation mandatory to make it happen. Otherwise, it’s not happening. So, they did come up with this proposal. So, basically you take group of citizens, you explain to them the situation in a very open manner, and then they come up with the proposal that is considered as radical.
And of course, all the communication experts would say that this proposal cannot work. And unfortunately, the government did not take on board the proposals from the citizen assembly. So, basically there is now a question, a democratic question about, if you are a citizen and engaged and involved, and then you make a proposal, you work hard, and if I am not mistaken, they were not paid for the work they had done working during weekends and it was during Covid time. And then by the end of the process, your proposals are not taken into account by policymakers. So, what is the point of doing all this exercise if it’s not taken into account?
So, we have to be very careful that we have true citizen engagement and we do not disappoint and policymakers do not disappoint citizens because I think it’s too risky for our [00:17:00] democracies.
Sarah Higginson: I agree. Stuart, you have something to add?
Stuart Capstick: Yeah, just to, to pick up on that. And I agree with the points that have just been made.
We have done some work ourselves on, well, deliberative democracy, climate assemblies, looking at the French case and the UK, and there’s also been a range of climate assemblies across Europe, and I think, yeah, they are an exciting idea. They can help to sort of revitalise democratic engagement. Often, as Yamina said, you know, people are further ahead than we might imagine. You know, there’s often an assumption in policy that our people don’t really want anything to change, they’re not going to be radical in their ideas, but actually given the sort of space and time to really discuss things and really get to grips with the issues, then they will.
So, I think one example in the French Climate assembly was a proposal for a ban on short-haul domestic [00:18:00] flights, which was only partly implemented, so, one case of policymakers not doing what they were advised. In the UK assembly when people had sort of more scope to come up with their own ideas, they suggested things like ending fossil fuel lobbying.
You know, people are quite capable of engaging with these issues. One thing I would say is that I think they are still a work in progress. Some of the work we’ve done suggests that actually a lot of the sort of recommendations and outcomes or the outputs that come from climate assemblies are in large part determined by what goes into them, by the options people have, by the advice they are given. So, I think we have to be very careful in considering how these things are set up and designed, but certainly have a lot of attention.
Sarah Higginson: I could definitely spend more time talking about democracy, but let’s go back to the subject in hand.
Yael Parag: Sarah, can I just pop up and say something? You say something about democracy, but actually these sort of ideas would be much easier to implement in non-democratic places, if [00:19:00] anything, democracy makes them harder to implement.
Sarah Higginson: Possibly. I’m not sure that I would agree. That’s, as I say, another conversation. So, I’d like to just move on a little bit, carry on talking about policy, I guess. So, how influential are these sorts of ideas in policy circles at the moment in the UK and internationally? And what do you think we could do to increase their influence? So, I will start with Stuart, this time.
Stuart Capstick: I think in terms of carbon rationing and carbon allowances they probably don’t have much traction in policy circles at the moment, I mean, let’s be honest, possibly on the more sort of progressive end of the spectrum, yes. But politics changes, there was a kind of policy window for some of these ideas going back 10, 15 years ago. Defra, the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs in the UK took this idea seriously. The then environment Minister took the idea seriously. So, there was a time when it, carbon allowances, had their [00:20:00] moment kind of in the sun, and, and at that time it was said that they were an idea ahead of their time, which sort of begs the question, well, when are they not ahead of their time? Is now the time for these things to happen? Do we wait another 10 years? It’s important to discuss and propose these radical ideas because they may yet get traction, even if at the moment it seems like they’re not favorably received by policymakers.
Sarah Higginson: And I think in the earlier session, Stuart, you made the point that even if they’re not politically acceptable at the moment we need to develop these ideas so that when we do have more progressive governments, you know, these ideas are ready and able to be implemented.
Stuart Capstick: And just very quickly to say as well, I think in the UK it’s important to distinguish between National Government and Scottish, Welsh and Northern Ireland. So, Scottish and Welsh governments have tended to be a lot more innovative and ahead of things.
Sarah Higginson: Indeed. Yeah.
Yael Parag: So, I’ll just say that the idea of rationing, it’s on the news today, but it’s about energy rationing. So it is [00:21:00] something which is in the discourse and discussions in government. But this is because desperate times call for desperate measures. However, we would not like to frame carbon rationing policy as a desperate measure, because this is depressing and people only recently got out of Covid and now with the energy crisis, so, another constraint is not something which is desirable by the public or by the politicians.
However, if this policy is framed more positively, what we can do, this is a space to innovate. We encourage low carbon innovation in order to allow people to have good lives, low carbon, good lives. We encourage these sorts of innovation, tailored solutions to specific problems that currently the government cannot provide because it does not know them.
And this might be the path for green growth. So, part of the way to push it forward is I think – a bond is a rationing concept – and [00:22:00] try to frame it in a more positive way that allows people to innovate, to think about new ideas, good ideas, things that will make our life better rather than constrained.
Sarah Higginson: Yes, and I mean, the idea of fairness is fundamental, isn’t it? And people respond very well to the idea of fairness.
Yael Parag: So, again, is it the fairest way? I’m not sure, but currently, nobody is referring to fairness in policy, currently it’s really, if you have money, you can do whatever you want, there is no constraint now. And then this is shown in statistics, the higher meter [readings of] the very rich people, so, there are some issues with fairness, with personal carbon allowances.
It’s not sure that equal per capita is the fairest way to distribute allowances. However, at least fairness is something which is on the agenda, we need to talk about, we need to discuss it with citizens. What would be fair is if maybe we should have a fairer way to allocate an allowance, [00:23:00] but this brings issues which previously were not on the table to the public to discuss.
Sarah Higginson: Indeed. And Yamina, I think you’ve got some examples of where this is more in the public discourse. Do you want to talk about those a little bit?
Yamina Saheb: Yeah. So, sufficiency made it to policies first in Thailand in 1997. But we don’t know much about how it has been implemented, how it was perceived, etc.
Unfortunately, it did make it to the policies during the economic crisis of Thailand. So maybe it is, as mentioned by Yael, perceived negatively because it was part of the package while they were experiencing crisis. But in the case of Western countries or OECD countries, the only country where sufficiency made it to the law is France in 2015.
So, the French Energy transition law makes a reference to energy sufficiency, not sufficiency, not the full concept as defined by the IPCC. And we owe this to a French NGO [00:24:00] that developed in early 2000, the first energy transition scenario, which is to decarbonise the French economy, which is based on the sufficiency, efficiency and decarbonisation of the suppliers of renewable energy sources.
So, we had this scenario published [for the] first time in 2000, if I remember, where there were plenty of negative reactions because no one knew about sufficiency as a concept at that time. But then between 2000 and 2015, after 15 years it made it to the law. So, this does not mean that we can allow our ourselves to spend 15 years more in other countries because now we are running out of time.
And then more recently, what did happen in France, this does not mean that the concept was well understood and accepted by everyone in the society, but more recently the French Energy Agency has done the most comprehensive work on scenarios considering sufficiency measures, so including the economic analysis, etc.
[00:25:00] And this was made known because it’s a public organisation, they report to three ministries, and we also had the electricity transmission company that did the same work, but for electricity only – not exactly the same work – that considered sufficiency in its scenarios for 2050 for France.
What is interesting is that by having all the scenarios, especially those from the French Energy Agency, then you can see the options that you have. So, if you go for a technological fix, you see that you must rely on negative emissions on unproven technologies. While if you go for sufficiency, then you can decarbonise your economy without relying on unproven technologies.
So, the case of France it is very specific. I think we need to do more work to understand why we had this uptake in France. So for example now that we are facing the energy crisis the French president Emmanuel Macron announced that government is going to develop an energy sufficiency plan. [00:26:00]
Unfortunately, in France the concept of sufficiency from a policymaking perspective is narrowed down to energy and mainly to behavior change of individuals, which is wrong, actually. So, we’ll see what will be this plan? We don’t know yet. The plan should be published in the coming days, I guess.
And unfortunately, France had the presidency of the EU council during the last semester, but did not bring this sufficiency concept to the EU debate because if you look at Repower EU, there are no sufficiency measures there, except maybe some references to behavior change of individuals. But behavior change of individuals, we know that it can occur only if you put in place [quickly] the solution, so even reducing the temperature in your home by one degree, this is possible only if you can act on your heating system, which is not the case in many multi-family buildings. So, you see, putting pressure on individuals is the [00:27:00] wrong way to [go] forward regarding sufficiency.
We need to have policies that allow sufficiency behavior, for sufficiency to become a reality. So even in France, the most advanced country on this concept, still has a lot of progress to make.
Sarah Higginson: Nevertheless, it’s great to have a good example. And while we’re talking about modelling with sufficiency in mind, I should just mention that CREDS has done some called Positive Low Energy Futures Scenarios.
And those don’t use the word sufficiency, but they pretty much use the idea of sufficiency. So, people who are listening to this might like to look that up as well.
Yes, so I mean, I’m just thinking about what might be the pros and cons of apportioning resources across society more fairly.
Stuart Capstick: Yeah, okay. And then I think looking at carbon rationing and engaging honestly with citizens about this, let’s be honest, does risk kind of opening a Pandora’s box, but I think that is [00:28:00] a good thing. I don’t think we have a very grown-up conversation at the moment about just how uneven and unfair carbon emissions are across different groups in society as nations, you know, we’re on average way above a reasonable share. And then within that there are sort of wealthier groups kind of taking too much of the pie, as it were. So, I think it’s important to have that difficult conversation in the first place so that people can appreciate and be more amenable to moving in a better direction.
And then from that we start to sort of ask questions about, well, how can we live in low carbon ways? How can we live within our means? Going to the concept of sufficiency, as I understand it, what do we need to live a good life and how can we do that within planetary limits rather than just sort of going along with the status quo, business as usual, and trying to sort of tweak it with technology and so on? [00:29:00] I mean I do think bringing up a broader conversation about carbon rationing, or if this was to be taken seriously by policymakers again, it does risk being a bit of a political mine field.
You know, I think we can and should look to do this in ways which don’t just frame it as a constraint to that and a punishment, but there is a risk, I think that it could kind of feed into these burgeoning culture wars, you know, I can sort of see the newspaper headlines already, you know, this is a bigger state interfering in people’s lives and so on.
So, I think there is that risk, but we need to do it carefully. And if the alternative is avoiding the subject, that’s no good either, we must take part in pushing in a better direction then.
Sarah Higginson: I mean, I recently heard someone say that one of the interesting things about our world at the moment is that all the problems [00:30:00] interact, but it occurred to me as an optimist that that means that the solutions interact as well.
And I think the thing that I find interesting in this space is that it opens up a lot of options for multiple benefits, which we often talk about in the energy world. And just for anybody who’s listening to this, who doesn’t know what that means, basically the idea is that you’re saving the environment in some way, but there are lots of additional benefits. So, for example, you might insulate your home to save carbon, but it’d become more comfortable. Or you might start cycling and walking, but you would become fitter and healthier as a result of that.
So, you know, I think there are as well as risks that, if we flip the coin to the other side, perhaps we can look at things in a positive light. Yael, you’ve got some ideas, I think.
Yael Parag: Yeah, I mean, in terms of the risks of framing policies as rationing or constraining is that it becomes a political issue. So, fairness, we think equal per capita or whatever division is something fair, but it would be easily [00:31:00] argued by people who are from the other side, the opposing political party that actually, this is a way for a government to control people and this is communist or this is liberal, it really could so easily go into the line of division.
And I think many countries are already divided for pros and against, left, right, pro-vaccine, against vaccine, pro-Trump, against Trump. And the one thing that we should try to avoid is putting this policy idea as one side of the fence because it requires collaborative effort for all people. So, I think effort should also be dedicated to finding common ground, something like a common language, it’s not even a common ground – the common ground that we are all living in this world and [00:32:00] we are all suffering or will suffer from aspects of climate change. Now the question is, how [do] we manage to bring everybody together to work on it, although we are divided in so many other aspects of life.
Sarah Higginson: Yes. Great. I agree. I mean, the next question I was going to ask you was about rationing and allowances and sufficiency and whether that language was helpful or not. But I think we’ve probably already talked about that enough, unless you have anything to add, Yamina.
Yamina Saheb: Now when it comes to sufficiency, if you explain well what sufficiency is about, you explain the climate crisis well, you explain that the remaining carbon budget is very limited and shrinking year after year because of our lifestyles, then it makes the discussion possible. Instead of just coming [00:33:00] with new policy measures with no discussion.
So, for example, it seems that we will have an announcement from the French government to put in place police to control the temperature of heating, you know, just thinking, I don’t know if it’s going to be put in place, it’s just a message that I received this morning. That can you imagine having the police to come to control the temperature in your home or in your office?
So, these kind of measures are counterproductive and this is not the way to go forward actually. So, the way to go forward, I think what was done in the citizen climate assembly is to explain the rationale, to explain the situation and explain the rationale. Then all citizens or most of the citizens would agree, would find a way because it’s about our future.
No one would like it. It’s easy to understand that if we have very high temperature and high humidity, that we will die. So already, for example, we had yesterday statistics published by the French Statistics Office about [00:34:00] the additional deaths we had in summertime because of the heatwave.
So, it seems that it’s quite close to what we had in 2003. So you see, we were all shocked in 2003 when we had 15,000 deaths in France because of the heatwave. So almost two decades later, we are having, if it’s confirmed, we will have something like 11,000 people. So, it’s equivalent to what we had in 2003, but okay, in 2003, we were surprised, no one knew about heatwaves. They could explain all that, but now there is no reason [not to be prepared] for that. So now it’s a political mistake. You see? And then citizens can understand that, and that’s why if all these measures are explained to avoid death, to avoid morbidity of people, and especially given that we have aging populations in Europe, so we need to take care of the oldest ones. No one would like to be in the street with dead people. We cannot imagine that. We don’t want to imagine that.
And [00:35:00] this is what we call today as radical policies. From my perspective, this is not what is radical. What is radical is what is happening today. Because what is happening today is leading to more crises and more deaths of people, etc.
And all this is costing a lot to society and all this is not acceptable actually, even to see or to imagine. So that’s why it’s all about how do we do it. So if this French decision, French government decision, to set police to control temperature is confirmed, it’ll be a big mistake in 2022 to do that after what we experienced it in the last years because of Covid.
Sarah Higginson: Yes. That seems crazy. Stuart, you wanted to say something?
Stuart Capstick: Yeah, I just wanted to offer a quick reflection on the idea of sufficiency. I think you said in the earlier talk that the French word for that is sobriety? Which strikes me, you know, that the English term sobriety would suggest being alert and in control, it’s a good thing versus being drunk [00:36:00] and debauched and out of control.
So I think sobriety’s quite a nice term we could use in the UK too.
Sarah Higginson: Excellent. Okay, we’ll get our comms teams onto that. Okay, so we are all researchers here and so if you were in charge of research funding and or public policy, what would you do to investigate and implement these ideas?
Yael, I’ll come to you first.
Yael Parag: So the first thing I’ll do is find a way to trial them in a real life context. So far, we looked at the different bits and pieces, but from a very limited point of view. Even the trials that took place in other countries didn’t really put a real constraint on consumption.
So thus far, the ideas are theoretical. We have a very nice theory built around them, but we need to make many assumptions about how they might work, how they might affect behavior. And [00:37:00] now it’s time to take it further. To really try small scale implementation to see if they stand [up] to their promise, maybe it’s a great idea on paper, but the worst ever idea to be implemented.
So that’s my view about what needs to happen next in order to move it forward. At this stage, I don’t think this is really a policy option that could be translated into implementable policy without this being more critically and realistically implemented somewhere.
Sarah Higginson: Great. We’re running out of time, so I’m going to move on to the next question unless anyone else has [a point].
Yamina Saheb: May I intervene on this point. So, yes, the work done by the French Energy Agency for France needs to be done at the EU and international level. We need to unlock global climate scenarios and climate policies and analysis from this old [00:38:00] way of thinking, even from the scientific community perspective.
And to do that you need to have a huge international team because the way you would design and implement sufficiency in different countries will be different, especially when you consider the global north and global south. That’s my dream project.
Sarah Higginson: And you made the point earlier that modellers are not considering sufficiency at all, also, and they’re very influential, aren’t they, in how policy is formed. So that’s obviously a critical thing. Stuart, do you have any research dreams in this area?
Stuart Capstick: Well, I think it’s not cheap to do trials. I agree with Yael, definitely more trials need to happen that are closer to what an actual PCA scheme might look like.
But that’s not cheap to do, it’s not easy to implement, but we need versions of that. It may be that they are going to be more light-touch or they might be a sort of constrained area, a particular city, or a [00:39:00] voluntary scheme to start with, etc. But without more learning-by-doing field experiments, we are not going to have a strong enough foundation to even make the case that we really, really should be doing this because there are clearly big risks to advocating for this at national levels.
I also think, you know, coming back to the point about assemblies and deliberation, it’s really important that citizens are engaged in a kind of structured, careful way to talk through these ideas and say what they think is good, bad, fair, unfair, useful, etc.
So, to sort of be able to engage with the idea in depth and talk about what conditions are most favorable. And also potentially to come up with innovations and ideas we haven’t thought of, so this should be a kind of collaborative project. So I would look to do both of those things.
Sarah Higginson: I’m going to say in all the work I’ve ever done with people they come up with better ideas than we had before we started working with them. [00:40:00] And I suppose my reflection on this is something that Yamina mentioned earlier that, you know, these might seem like radical ideas, but actually what’s radical is not responding to the crisis that we find ourselves in.
And moving from the climate crisis to the energy crisis that we’re in at the moment, or the energy price crisis, presumably these ideas become even more relevant. Do you have any advice for people listening to this podcast, if they want to use these ideas to shape their future energy and climate action, what kinds of things might people be able to do themselves?
I mean, I understand that this is a much bigger change that we’re talking about, but what kinds of things could they do? Is there anything?
Yael Parag: I think first of all, people should know how much they contribute to the problem. I don’t think that people are aware of their emissions because they are completely invisible. And the first thing is to acknowledge your footprint. [00:41:00]
Sarah Higginson: Is there anything people can do to take actions along the lines of sufficiency and personal carbon allowances, within the context of the energy crisis?
Yamina Saheb: In our countries to vote for the right people. This is what we could do individually. But it’s not what is happening, unfortunately, all our democracies are facing challenges by some movements that will not lead us to this change. So, it’s the vote in our democracies.
Sarah Higginson: Great. Okay, Stuart?
Stuart Capstick: Yeah, definitely agree with the voting point. I mean, where I live in Bristol, which in some ways is a bit of an oasis, even though it’s a far from perfect place, you know, we had a lot of green councillors, almost 50% of our councillors a local level were green at the last election.
And yeah, there’s been other sort of local innovations, so whether that’s votes at sort of local or national level, then yeah, think very carefully where you put your X.
I’d also say that, you know, wherever we can make our voices heard, we should try and do that. That might be at the local community level [00:42:00] or city or national level, but I guess, there are those of us who are more involved in activism or, or NGOs or signing petitions or whatever it might be.
But not enough of us are, and I think it’s unfortunate that I suppose a lot of people have understandably retreated from being politically engaged or never were politically engaged in the first place, but it’s absolutely critical that we find ways to do that and maybe get a bit out of our comfort zone or do what’s most appropriate to us.
So, to speaking out and finding ways to sort of push beyond our own personal carbon footprints, I do think, as I think Yael alluded to, that our own behaviors matter, we all do have a stake in this planet, we all do have a footprint, but also we are not individuals.
Our actions have knock on consequences. You know, there’s a reason why there are increasing numbers [00:43:00] of plant-based products in supermarkets because individuals took it upon themselves to eat less meat. And as a result, those innovations come, there are more products, we can, as individuals be part of bigger change. And there are other examples of that too.
So don’t, don’t think that what you do is just your own little drop in the ocean and it doesn’t matter because it may have knock on consequences you are not even aware of.
Sarah Higginson: I must say for my part I’ve got some friends in South Africa who want to start up an environmentally friendly action group, and I’m not too sure what that looks like yet, but I’m talking to them about Global Action Plan or GAP, which I think still exists, and will also be talking to them about CRAGs or carbon rationing action groups, because I think that these are ways for people to engage with their own consumption, as Yael said, and to think about positive solutions and innovative solutions that they can come up with together and support each other in doing that as a community and [00:44:00] maybe even support action at the local level to start to change some of the infrastructures and things that lock in high consumption.
So, I think with that we’re going to end. So, I just want to say thank you very, very much for being with us today. And also for your work in this area, which may seem like it’s taking a long time to come to fruition, but is I think incredibly important if only to broaden our minds about the options that are out there.
And thank you for your involvement in the report which people can go and read. So, this is all of us saying have a lovely day and thank you very much for listening.
Banner photo credit: Bakari Mustafa on Unsplash