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BEHAVE! Examining the role of behaviour change in climate change mitigation and adaptation

22 March 2018

Professor Anna Davies, TCD, recounts the ‘BEHAVE’ event hosted by Future Earth Ireland in November 2017.

(Blog post content and statements are proprietary to the author. Each author represents only themself and their own opinion.)

Increasingly urgent calls to take action to tackle climate change are emanating from a suite of diverse constituencies in Ireland and internationally, from Stop Climate Chaos and Friends of the Earth, to the Climate Change Advisory Council and the Citizens Assembly on Climate Change. While there is increasing consensus around the need for action, there is less agreement over exactly what changes are needed and what mechanisms should be employed to affect them. Yet, how we behave – and here the ‘we’ includes not just individuals, but also communities, governing institutions, big business and small enterprises alike – both now and in the future will dramatically affect how successful our climate change mitigation and adaptation strategies will be.

It was in response to these issues that BEHAVE was organised by Future Earth Ireland at the Royal Irish Academy last November. The response to the event was overwhelming and engagement took place both at the Academy and online through a social media intervention that collated questions and comments from those who were unable to participate directly. 

Attendees heard from renowned international experts who set the scene around behaviour change and climate change. Charlie Wilson, from University of East Anglia, explored the intersection of technologies, behaviour and policy in the field of energy and climate change mitigation, at both a systems level and a micro level.  Charlie was followed by Iain Watts, Forum for the Future’s climate change specialist, who outlined the case for greater corporate engagement with climate change. He outlined the strategic risks that climate change poses to their operations and made a convincing case for the business community to become leading advocates for positive change. It was then time to hear from home-grown experts with Karl Purcell from Sustainable Energy Authority of Ireland, Jeanne Moore from the National Economic and Social Council, Simon O’Rafferty from the Environmental Protection Agency and Mike Hynes from National University of Ireland Galway, all providing thought-provoking lightening talks illustrating the challenges and opportunities for greater attention to behaviour in our responses to climate change in Ireland.

These stimulating talks were followed by questions via social media and from the audience. These were diverse, but many focused on what carrots and sticks are needed to make us act on climate change and who is responsible for providing those stimuli. However, questions remained as to why it is so difficult to overcome our collective inertia and take the urgent and extensive action needed to effectively manage climate change. While we might ‘get it’ on one level, our actions do not always follow – the value-action gap already highlighted in Irish research.

BEHAVE concluded by showing a powerful poem by BRIT-nominated George the Poet ‘A climate of change’ illustrated by Katie Halil (AKA @WhatKatieDrew), which reiterates a key theme in the day’s discussion, that behaviour change for climate change needs a paradigm shift; a shift in ‘common sense’ as George puts it. This includes, but has to go far beyond improving energy efficiency and must also address the question of how we all might change our lifestyles to meet the climate change challenge.  This raises the fundamental question, how do we wish to live? Our decisions now will not only affect us, they will leave a lasting legacy for our children and our children’s children. We need to all help create the conditions for change.

A summary of the event, including all questions posed from the floor and social media, can be accessed via the event report and infographic.

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