Rapid and radical changes to systems that currently support unhealthy unsustainable behaviour are needed to achieve net zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050, but current commitments are unmatched by action, say Professor Dame Theresa Marteau and colleagues in a BMJ article, adding that COP26 offers a precious opportunity to get back on track.
Professor Marteau, Director of Behaviour Change by Design at the University of Cambridge, and her colleagues say changing behaviour across populations is key to achieving net zero as technological innovation will be insufficient. They focus on behaviour around diet and land travel, which contribute an estimated 26% and 12% of global greenhouse gas emissions, respectively.
For the public, they explain that adopting a largely plant based diet and taking most journeys using a combination of walking, cycling, and public transport would substantially reduce greenhouse gas emissions and improve health.
They acknowledge that changing behaviour at scale is difficult, but say changing the physical and economic environments that drive the behaviour has the most potential to succeed.
The authors believe the necessary changes to diet and land travel can be achieved through policies that increase the availability and affordability of healthier and more sustainable options.
For example, promoting healthier and more sustainable foods while increasing prices of carbon intensive foods and reducing prices of foods that are less carbon intensive; creating safe and attractive cycling and walking routes; ensuring low cost public transport; and restricting availability and attractiveness of car use.
Changes need to be fair and equitable as well as effective to gain public support, they say. They also need to be driven by evidence and protected from powerful commercial interests.
“Complex coordinated behaviour can be mobilised by a shared, positive narrative, reflecting collective goals, alongside a clear vision, making vivid the many benefits of a net zero world,” they write. “The development of such a vision—both global and regional—is a priority and requires co-creation by citizens, governments, and industries, informed by scientific expertise and protected from corporate interference.”
With sufficient daring from the world’s governments, the flexibility, creativity, and social nature of human behaviour can achieve a just transition to net zero, thereby protecting the health of current and future generations.”
– Professor Theresa Marteau, Director, Behaviour Change by Design
Read the article
Theresa M Marteau, Nick Chater, Emma E Garnett, Changing behaviour for net zero 2050. BMJ 2021;375:n2293
Queries: please contact Lucy Lloyd at the Primary Care Unit, University of Cambridge
Photo: Eric Sehr via Flickr