Australia

Five things you can do right now to reduce climate change

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Consumer choices can have a big impact on tackling climate change.

Nearly 200 nations are gathered in Poland this week for the COP24 summit, where they are trying to agree on a universal rulebook to make good on the promises made in the 2015 Paris climate deal.

But it's not only leaders who can have a role in combatting climate change. 

In October, the latest United Nations' Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report included suggestions for how consumers can help tackle climate change - including changes in consumption and lifestyle choices.

The climate modelling called socioeconomic pathways, or SSPs, looks at choices individuals can make to contribute towards the 1.5 degrees Celsius limit on global warming based on pre-industrial levels. 

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More sustainable consumption patterns are recommended in the choices on transportation, diet and the use of household goods.

1. Transport

The IPCC suggests the transport carbon footprint could be reduced through people opting to use public transport car sharing arrangements and hybrid or electric cars instead of planes and motor vehicles.

The key benefits will come from "large-scale and rapid" transitions, the report said

"While the pace of change that would be required to limit warming to 1.5°C can be found in the past, there is no historical precedent for the scale of the necessary transitions, in particular in a socially and economically sustainable way," the report continues. "Resolving such speed and scale issues would require people’s support, public-sector interventions and private-sector cooperation."

The use of cars in Australia is responsible for about 50 per cent of transport emissions, which itself represents the country's third largest source of greenhouse gas emissions at 18 per cent.

Australia is ranked the ninth-highest transport polluter per capita in the world - almost 50 per cent higher than the OECD average.

A loaded coal train passes through the outskirts of Singleton, in the NSW Hunter Valley.
A loaded coal train passes through the outskirts of Singleton, in the NSW Hunter Valley.
AAP

2. Diet and food waste

The IPCC report also suggests people reduce their consumption of animal products by 30 per cent. The decision to eat less meat, particularly beef, and dairy products has been identified by researchers as making a bigger impact on lowering greenhouse gas emissions than reducing flights or buying an electric car.

The June study published in the journal 'Science' showed that beef production compared with peas results in six times more greenhouse gas emissions and the use of 36 times more land.

World Wildlife Fund Australia campaigner Monica Richter said food waste is one area where consumer decisions can make an impact on global warming. 

"Did you know that 30 per cent of all food consumed by the [Australian] household goes to food waste?" she said.

"So that is three out of every 10 baskets of groceries are thrown in the bin. We need to do better than that."

3. Energy consumption

The IPCC report also advises a shift to less energy-intensive household goods such as smart thermostats and air conditioners. The report recommends that renewable energy supplies between 70 and 85 per cent of electricity globally by 2050.

Renewables accounted for 19.9 per cent of the electricity generated in Australia's main grids in May. That number includes the installation of 18,917 rooftop solar PV systems.

Consultancy firm Green Energy Markets (GEM) said at this rate, rooftop solar is projected to see renewables account for 39 per cent of the electricity consumption by 2030.

"Urban systems that are moving towards transformation are coupling solar and wind with battery storage and electric vehicles in a more incremental transition, though this would still require changes in regulations, tax incentives, new standards, demonstration projects and education programs to enable markets for this system to work," the IPCC report said. 

4. Collective political action 

World Wildlife Fund Australia campaigner Monica Richter said the collective action of individuals will play a key role in ensuring accountability from government and businesses. 

"And we can do that with the decisions we make in our homes, the decisions we make in our businesses, how we transport ourselves around, the money we put into our superannuation funds," she said.

She said examples of the power of collective action includes the growth of the WWF's annual Earth Hour initiative, which started 11 years ago and has since became a worldwide annual event.

"Now one in four Australians participate in Earth Hour. Over 187 cities globally participate in that symbolic gesture of switching off your lights for that one hour, to say I really care about this and I want to be part of the solution," Ms Richter said.

"When the people lead, the politicians will follow. And I think we need to be able to demonstrate collectively that Australians do deeply care about this and we want urgent action."

5. Vote

Environmental campaign group 350.org said it is already taking collective action to ensure 50 Australian federal politicians receive personally delivered copies of the IPCC report. 

"That is a sign of people getting up off their backsides and taking action," said Glen Klatovsky, deputy CEO of 350.org Australia. 

"And you know what that means for a politician? It means that their constituents - who vote them in - are speaking very loudly and clearly. Most Australians want this problem fixed. They want Canberra to fix it. Canberra has the power to do that," he said. 

Prime Minister Scott Morrison said on Monday he would consider the IPCC report's recommendations, but repeated the government's position that it is satisfied with meeting its targets under the Paris Agreement. 

The IPCC report said under the current Paris Agreement pledges, the world is on a trajectory to exceed a 3 degree Celsius temperature limit - let alone 1.5 degrees. 

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