Climate Change: Why What We’re Currently Doing Is Not Enough

On May 19th and 20th, 2021, RINNO’s Antonia Egli attended the virtual Dublin Climate Dialogues featuring high-profile speakers such as John Kerry (US Special Presidential Envoy for Climate), and Mary Robinson (Adjunct Professor of Climate Justice, Trinity College Dublin, Chair of the Elders, and former President of Ireland). The two-day event gave room for discussions on the policy and technological developments required for the fulfillment of net-zero pledges and the 2015 Paris Agreement. It culminated in a Declaration that will be presented to the COP Presidency of the 2021 United Nations Climate Change Conference.

The truth is we’re just not getting the job done – yet. Currently, if you did everything we said we would do…we’re still going to see warming of about 3.7 degrees or more.

John Kerry, Joe Biden’s Special Presidential Envoy For Climate

Against the backdrop of perceived insufficient action on climate change, the Dublin Climate Dialogues took place on 19 May 2021. Society, as a whole, desperately needs to limit the Earth’s warming to no more than 1.5°C within the next decade to avoid mass irreversible damage on a global scale. But even if all signing members of the Paris Agreement were to fulfill today’s current goals on time, it would still not be enough to counteract the damage being done. While the world rightly focuses on the COVID-19 pandemic, climate change has resulted in 9 million premature deaths per year, nearly three times that of COVID-19. COVID-19 is immediate; we can see the impact on our lives, society, and the economy. Exponentially worsening climate consequences for the global community are predicted to result from a mere 0.1°C increase.  Is it possible we are the frog in the boiling pot of water that is climate change, oblivious to the gradual change until it is too late?

Why Are We Not Acting On Climate Change?

So why aren’t we doing more to curb climate change? To answer this question, Katharine Hayhoe (Chief Scientist for the Nature Conservancy and  Professor of Political Science, Texas Tech University) introduced two psychological phenomena that help explain our behaviour – psychological distance and solution aversion. In dialogue with Pat Cox (former President of the European Parliament), Professor Hayhoe explains that humans currently view rising global temperatures as an abstract anomaly in comparison to their day-to-day lives. Simply put, psychological distance means that people are more likely to perceive climate change more concretely when they perceive it more closely. Studies suggest that in many cases this results in more pro-environmental behaviours and attitudes.

Climate change is psychologically distant
(© Yale Program on Climate Change Communication)

Solution aversion is quite simple. People are more likely to deny problems when they don’t like the solutions. There are two aspects to this, both of which impact our response to climate change. The first is tangible solution aversion. Addressing climate change means tangible changes in lifestyle – what we eat, how we travel, what and how much we buy and so on. Professor Hayhoe stresses that to be accepted, climate solutions must promote the cost of non-action and life-quality benefits for citizens in order to establish full support.  The second is ideologically solution aversion. This is particularly prevalent in the US where many citizens have built their identity on politics which is often co-mingled with a climate change position. Professor Hayhoe suggests that this is a difficult hurdle to overcome and requires bonding with people over other common topics and disentangling climate change from politics.

“Climate change is an issue of justice” – Mary Robinson

Many people worldwide, more often than not, the poor, do not have the luxury of psychological distance and solution aversion. Those living in the world’s poorest countries face the environmental consequences of climate change every day but are largely powerless to change the wider trend. Research shows that the Global North is responsible for 92% of all excess global CO2 emissions while heavily relying “on the appropriation of labour and resources from the Global South for their […] economic growth…[in ways which] harm the Global South disproportionately.” Mia Amor Mottley (Prime Minister of Barbados and Co-Chair of the Development Committee of the World Bank) highlighted that Pacific island states currently receive only 2% of global resources in financial support to battle climate change. These nations rely on tourism and travel and the combination of COVID-19 and climate change is devastating.

Seaside with signs Rising sea levels and coastal erosion are threatening Pacific Island economies(© go_greener_oz)

However it is wrong to merely focus on the economic impact. Mary Robinson (Adjunct Professor of Climate Justice, Trinity College Dublin, Chair of the Elders, and former President of Ireland).and Enrico Letta (Leader of the Italian Democratic Party and former Prime Minister of Italy) emphasise that the urgency of climate change has always been raised by the world’s poorest countries. As well as the economic impact, one needs to look at the ripple effect on a wide number of issues including gender inequality, intergenerational encroachment, intensified climate refugee waves, industrial, technological and intellectual property imbalances, and insufficient access to natural resources in the southern hemisphere. All these issues are forecast to increase with ongoing global environmental damage.

What actions can we take to curb climate change?

In May 2021, the International Energy Agency published a Roadmap To Net-Zero Economies. To get to net‐zero CO2 emissions by 2050 requires a wide range of layered solutions including (1) energy efficiency, (2) behavioural changes, (3) electrification, and (4) greater use of renewable energy sources and bioenergy, and (5) carbon capture, utilisation and storage (CCUS).

Graph showing mitigation levels of alternative energy sources

Solar, wind and energy efficiency deliver around half of emissions reductions to 2030
in the NZE, while electrification, CCUS and hydrogen ramp up thereafter
(© IEA, 2021)

RINNO and the Roadmap to Net-Zero

Buildings in Europe, as in many advanced economies, have substantially longer lifetimes than less developed countries. By 2050, over half the building stock will still be in use. EU building stock accounts for 40% of the EU’s energy consumption and 36% of its green house gas (GHG) emissions. To achieve net zero emissions by 2020 requires a significant commitment, psychologically and financially, to the deep renovation of these buildings. The key actions for existing buildings are (i) reducing the demand for heating and cooling via renovation of the building envelope, (ii) using new low-energy consuming equipment in general (and specifically using more energy efficient heating equipment), (iii) increasing uptake and use of renewable energy sources, and (iv) adopting  “smart buildings” (European Commission, 2020). Unfortunately, there are many barriers to deep renovation including human, organisational, technological,  and environmental barriers. The ultimate objective of RINNO is to contribute to accelerating the rate of deep renovation in the EU by reducing the time, effort and cost of deep renovation while improving energy performance and stakeholder satisfaction. We plan to do this by designing, developing, and demonstrating a novel open renovation platform for managing and delivering deep renovation projects for residential buildings from planning and design, through to retrofitting, operation and monitoring.

Full recordings of the Dublin Climate Dialogues can be viewed here, while ongoing updates on COP26 can be followed on TwitterRINNO is a Horizon 2020 project that aims to considerably accelerate the rate of deep renovation in the EU by reducing the time, efforts, and costs involved. We strive to deliver a set of efficient, environmentally friendly, multi-functional, and easily applicable construction-related innovations that are geared in favour of a more sustainable future in the Irish economy.
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