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HandWiki. Individual and Political Action on Climate Change. Encyclopedia. Available online: (accessed on 26 February 2024).
HandWiki. Individual and Political Action on Climate Change. Encyclopedia. Available at: Accessed February 26, 2024.
HandWiki. "Individual and Political Action on Climate Change" Encyclopedia, (accessed February 26, 2024).
HandWiki. (2022, October 31). Individual and Political Action on Climate Change. In Encyclopedia.
HandWiki. "Individual and Political Action on Climate Change." Encyclopedia. Web. 31 October, 2022.
Individual and Political Action on Climate Change

Individual and political action on climate change can take many forms. Many actions aim to build social and political support to limit, and subsequently reduce, the concentration of greenhouse gases (GHGs) in the atmosphere, with the goal of mitigating climate change. Other actions seek to address the ethical and moral aspects of climate justice, especially with regard to the anticipated unequal impacts of climate change adaptation.

climate change political action political support

1. Political Action

Political action can change laws and regulations that relate to climate change.

Carbon pricing methods, such as a carbon tax or an emissions trading system, are favored by many economists as the most efficient and effective means to reduce GHG emissions, and are increasingly being deployed around the world.[1] In the U.S., groups such as the bipartisan legislative Climate Solutions Caucus[2] and the Citizens' Climate Lobby work to build support for carbon pricing. The first bipartisan climate policy in 10 years was introduced in the United States House of Representatives in 2018 as the Energy Innovation and Carbon Dividends Act.[3]

Pictured above is a protest in the streets of Paris against climate change.

Regulations can strengthen GHG emission standards from particular sectors of the economy, such as the EPA's proposed Clean Power Plan for United States power plants, or vehicle standards in Europe and the United States.

Political action can also gain media and public attention to climate change. Political action from the community, however, is often challenged by interests within the fossil-fuel industry,[4][5] which have been charged with promoting climate change denial views[6] in order to hold off a "carbon bubble" valuation crash.

There are many forms of political action on climate change including letter writing, direct lobbying, and public shaming of politicians and media organizations. Political action campaigns require building a base of support at local level.

There are many facts that point to the existence of climate change. The plentiful hurricanes, droughts, and fires are all in part due to the ever changing atmosphere caused by climate change. One of the ways in which the human race can get in front of this change is through political action.[7] Legislative action is one strategy that politicians are using to combat carbon emissions. The way these laws will come about is via political action. Carbon emissions are a significant causing factor for climate change and by putting federal regulations such as a carbon tax there will overall be a decrease in carbon emissions. This allows the private sector to decide how to do so cost effectively which in turn benefits the environment.[8] The private sector is one deciding factor in how governments enact their policies. In the case of climate change an action that needs to be taken is one that influences them rather than the other way around.

1.1. Activist Movements

Political figures have a vested interest in remaining on the good side of the public. This is because in democratic countries the public are the ones electing these government officials. Thus keeping up with protests is a way they can ensure they have the public's wants in mind.[9] Climate change is a prevalent issue in society. Some believe that solutions to it can be increased by actions taken by individuals and communities. Through conservation, policy change, and innovation the public can make a positive change to decrease the emission of fossil fuels and put a gradual end to climate change. There are many organizations that have formed in order to bring light to this large issue.[10]

The Earth Day Network is an organization on a mission to put an end to climate change. Their goal is education, expansion, and activation of an environmentally conscious movement worldwide to bring more attention to this significant issue. Over one billion people participate in Earth day activities and with an uptick in these movements the people can begin to make a difference.[11]

Placard "Change the administration, not the climate", at the People's Climate March (2017).

The climate movement has emerged in recent years, given there is an increased awareness of the importance of global warming as a factor in a range of issues. Many environmental, economic, and social issues find common ground in mitigation of global warming.[12][13]

To raise awareness of climate issues, a global climate strike took place for a week in late September 2019: countries around the world showed unity within their communities as people rallied together in groups- demanding action to take place for a better future and swarming the streets of cities to march and voice their dissatisfaction with the environment they currently live in.[14]

A number of groups from around the world have come together to work on the issue of global warming. Non-governmental organizations (NGOs) from diverse fields of work have united on this issue. A coalition of 50 NGOs called Stop Climate Chaos launched in Britain in 2005 to highlight the issue of climate change.

The Campaign against Climate Change was created to focus purely on the issue of climate change and to pressure governments into action by building a protest movement of sufficient magnitude to effect political change.

Critical Mass is an event typically held on the last Friday of every month in various cities around the world wherein bicyclists and, less frequently, unicyclists, skateboarders, inline skaters, roller skaters and other self-propelled commuters take to the streets en masse. While the ride was founded in San Francisco, California with the idea of drawing attention to how unfriendly the city was to bicyclists, the leaderless structure of Critical Mass makes it impossible to assign it any one specific goal. In fact, the purpose of Critical Mass is not formalized beyond the direct action of meeting at a set location and time and traveling as a group through city or town streets.

One of the elements of the Occupy movement is global warming action.

Following environmentalist Bill McKibben's mantra that "if it's wrong to wreck the climate, it's wrong to profit from that wreckage,[15]" fossil fuel divestment campaigns attempt to get public institutions, such as universities and churches, to remove investment assets from fossil fuel companies. By December 2016, a total of 688 institutions and over 58,000 individuals representing $5.5 trillion in assets worldwide had been divested from fossil fuels.[16][17]

Groups such as NextGen America and Climate Hawks Vote are working in the United States to elect officials who will make action on climate change a high priority.

1.2. Climate Disobedience

Climate disobedience is a form of civil disobedience, deliberate action intended to critique government climate policy. In 2008, American climate activist Tim DeChristopher posed as a bidder at an auction of US Bureau of Land Management oil and gas leases of public land in Utah, won the auction, reneged on payment, and was imprisoned for 21 months. In September 2015, five climate activists known as the Delta 5 obstructed an oil train in Everett, Washington. At trial, the Delta 5 were allowed the necessity defense, that is, breaking a law in the service of preventing a greater harm. After testimony, the judge determined the grounds for the necessity defense were not met and instructed the jury to disregard testimony admitted under the necessity defense. The Delta 5 were fined for trespassing but were acquitted of more serious charges.[18][19][20][21]

The first example of a judge accepting the climate necessity defense was on March 27, 2018 when Judge Mary Ann Driscoll acquitted all 13 defendants of civil charges from a protest held in 2016 in Boston, Massachusetts.[22]

2. International Political Frameworks

2.1. Paris Agreement

Map of countries participating in revised Kyoto Protocol and their commitments.

The Paris Agreement is an agreement within the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) dealing with greenhouse gases emissions mitigation, adaptation and finance starting in the year 2020. The language of the agreement was negotiated by representatives of 195 countries at the 21st Conference of the Parties of the UNFCCC (COP21) in Paris and adopted by consensus on 12 December 2015.

The head of the Paris Conference, France's foreign minister Laurent Fabius, called the plan "ambitious and balanced" and an "historic turning point" in the goal of reducing global warming. Critics note that the agreement is not sufficient to achieve the 2 °C warming target, and the lack of any binding enforcement mechanism. Subsequent Conference of the Parties meetings are expected to address shortcomings in the Paris Agreement.

Amid fierce opposition from scientists and other leaders around the world, U.S. President Donald Trump has pledged to pull out of the Paris Agreement.

The Paris Agreement, which was brought to discussion on November 12, 2016, was made with a goal in mind to unite all countries against the threat of climate change. This argument stipulates that all countries involved contribute financially and regularly report on emissions and the status of national progress. At this point, over half the countries in Convention who were responsible for over half of greenhouse emissions, had ratified.[23]

2.2. The European Union

Pictured above are US Secretary Kerry and the UN Secretary-General at the COP21 meeting of the UNFCCC in Paris.

Under the Kyoto Protocol, countries with targets could elect to reach these targets in co-operation with other countries. The European Union has decided to work as a unit to meet its emissions targets. The European climate change program attempts to do this by utilising an emissions trading scheme known as the European Union Greenhouse Gas Emission Trading Scheme. The principle of this scheme is quite simple: to make their legally binding commitments under Kyoto, countries can either make these savings within their own country, or they can buy these emissions reductions from other countries. These other countries would still need to meet their Kyoto targets, but the use of a free market system ensures the reductions are made for the least possible costs. Most reductions are made where these reductions are cheapest, and the excess reductions can be sold on to other countries where such cuts would be less economically viable. The EU ETS is arguably the global template for emissions trading schemes that are being implemented globally (China, South Korea, Tokyo and others).[24]

The commitment of the European Union to cut back on its excessive green house gas emissions came from the implementation of the Kyoto Protocol. Since its application, the Doha amendments, which were made to ratify the Kyoto Protocol, have come to regulate this protocol and update the Union's commitment to reducing greenhouse gas emissions. This second round of the Kyoto Protocol created a legally binding agreement for participating EU countries until 2020. Under this plan, by 2030, there are hopes of the EU cutting their emissions by 40%.[25]

States that become more involving or are and concerned about ability are more than likely to have more consistency; compared to the least become more refrained with agreements that comply decrease of legalization. “Empirical analyses of ratification of the FCCC and the Kyoto Protocol yield strong support for these propositions” .[26]

2.3. Contraction and Convergence

The concept of Cap, Contraction and Convergence was proposed as a replacement to the Kyoto agreement. The idea here is that the limits to carbon emissions need to be capped at 350-450 parts per million, currently considered to produce a raise in world temperatures above pre-industrial levels of between 1 and 2 degrees Celsius. It is currently believed that further increases would bring about major positive feedbacks (the burning of forests and the loss of carbon from soils and oceans) which currently limit greenhouse gas emissions, and would lead to a run-away global warming similar to the Eocene period, during which there was no ice at the poles.

To sustain this figure, it has been proposed that on equity grounds, all people should be allocated an equal carbon footprint (currently about 2 tonnes per person, which by 2050 could fall to 1.5 tonnes per person through population increase). World per capita carbon emissions, currently in excess of 4 tonnes per person needs to contract to those levels, if these targets are to be met.[27] As a result, in the name of global and inter-generational equity, policies needing to be instituted need to converge, over a fixed period towards this figure for every country. A trading regime, whereby which countries in excess of these figures (from example the US at 20 tonnes per capita), purchase carbon credits from a country using less than its allocation (e.g. Kenya at 1.3 tonnes per capita), is considered by many as the best way of solving this problem.

For example, the Contract and Converge strategy was adopted by India, China and many African countries as the basis for future negotiations. The UK Royal Commission on Environmental Pollution said in 2000 "the UK should be prepared to accept the contraction and convergence principle is the basis for international agreement on greenhouse gas emissions".[28]

In 2015, the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change met in Paris to negotiate a new agreement. This meeting was the 21st Conference of Parties (COP21). In this agreement, the goal was to keep temperatures under 1.5 degrees Celsius. While this goal was seen as progress in the fight against climate change, some more liable countries saw this as unattainable. They also thought some important steps were not taken during this meeting; however, everyone seemed optimistic for the future.[29]

3. Sub-national Level Action

Some states, regions, and cities in the world are taking the lead on developing emissions reduction methods in the absence of national policy, and may provide models for future national efforts. Their efforts are achieving real measurable emissions reductions and by pursuing policies and programs that have climate benefits, they have promoted state economic development, improved air quality and trimmed their vulnerability to energy price spikes. In the long run, addressing climate change will require comprehensive national policy and international agreements. However, in the US, due to absence of federal policy, states and regions are taking the lead on developing policies that may provide models for future national efforts.[30]

3.1. Climate Budget by the State of Odisha

While presenting the fiscal year 2020-2021 state budget for the Indian state of Odisha, Finance Minister of the state Niranjan Pujari introduced the Climate Budget.[31] Climate budget aims to keep track of the expenses made by the government for climate change or to support mitigation and adaption actions to address climate change. As per the document, It will help the government to decide whether to redesign or safeguard the existing projects by seeing their impact on the climate change.[32] Odisha has become the first state in India to introduce climate budget.[33]

3.2. The Columbia River Basin

Large efforts are being made across many continents and many nations such as the United States. The Columbia River, which runs through the United States and Canada, has an abundance of naturally rich soil and wildlife; thus making it a natural resource to the North American continent.[34] The Columbia River Basin uses the flow of the current of the river to create hydropower which makes it an economic resource as well. A study on the hydrology of the river was done in order to see the effects of climate in the future and how they can be managed.[35]

3.3. The Danish Council on Climate Change

In response to the Climate Change Act, the Danish Council on Climate Change was formed in order to improve the quality of life through lessening the amount of carbon emitted in the atmosphere. This includes promoting cleaner future structures being built, clean renewable energy, and transportation. A group of experts is working with the council in order to ensure that accurate data is being attained and more action is being made to see improvements.[36]

3.4. Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (United States)

The Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI, pronounced "Reggie") is the first mandatory market based program in the United States to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. RGGI is a cooperative effort among the states of Connecticut, Delaware, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts , New Hampshire, New York, Rhode Island, and Vermont to cap and reduce CO
emissions from the power sector. In effect since January 1, 2009, the program is now in its third 3-year compliance period (2015-2017). As of 2016, RGGI has cut power plant carbon emissions in the region by 37%, while saving customers over $395 million on their bills.[37]

3.5. Ghent, Belgium

The city promotes a meat-free day on Thursdays called Veggiedag,[38][39] with vegetarian-only food in public canteens for civil servants and elected councillors, soon in all schools, and promotion of vegetarian eating options in town (through the distribution of "veggie street maps"). This campaign is linked to the recognition of the detrimental environmental effects of meat production, which the United Nations ' Food and Agriculture Organization has established to represent nearly one-fifth of global greenhouse gas emissions.

3.6. United Kingdom

The town of Totnes in Devon through its "Transition Town Totnes" Project has adopted an Energy Descent Plan, as a response in answer to the twin problems of greenhouse gas emissions and peak oil. As a result of a series of large, well attended public gatherings with key experts from around the world, and the organisation of a number of special interest groups, the community has come together with lecturers and trainers shared with Schumacher College, through a process of participative strategic planning, to hone their skills in project development. As a result of the initiatives in Totnes, a large number of other communities have started "Transition Town" projects, and there are now more than 400 around the world,[40] ranging from small communities to whole cities (e.g. Berlin).

The concepts of including food miles or carbon neutral labels on packaging has been gaining interest in the UK.[41]

4. Individual Action

Studies published in peer-reviewed scientific journals have posited that the most significant way for individuals to reduce their own ecological footprint is to have fewer children, followed by traveling without a vehicle, forgoing air travel and adopting a largely plant-based diet.[42][43] According to another study if the wealthiest 10% of people in the world (net weatlh over about 100 thousand USD[44]) cut their emissions to the level of the average EU citizen that would cut total emissions by a third.[45]

4.1. Carbon Conversations

The Carbon Conversations is a psychosocial project that focuses on the agency of individuals to encourage personal action to reduce carbon emissions. The project touches on five main topics: i) home energy; ii) food; iii) travel; iv) consumption and waste; and v) talking with family and friends. The project understands that individuals often fail to adopt low-carbon lifestyles not because of practical barriers to change (e.g.: there is no renewable energy available), but because of aspects related to their values, emotions, and identity. The project offers a supportive group experience that helps people reduce their personal carbon dioxide emissions by 1 tonne CO
on average and aim at halving it in the long term. They deal with the difficulties of change by connecting to values, emotions and identity. The groups are based on a psychosocial understanding of how people change. Groups of 6-8 members meet six or twelve times with trained facilitators in homes, community centres, workplaces or other venues. The meetings create a non-judgmental atmosphere where people are encouraged to make serious lifestyle changes.

Carbon Conversations was cited in The Guardian newspaper as one of the 20 best ideas to tackle climate change.[46]

4.2. Energy Usage

On the global scale, the utilization of energy speaks to a wide margin of people. The biggest wellspring of greenhouse gas emissions are from human activities. Around 66% of worldwide greenhouse gas emissions are connected to consuming fossil fuels for energy to utilize for warming, power, transport and industry. In Europe, as well, energy processes are the biggest producer of greenhouse gases, 78% of total EU emissions in 2015.[47]

Vegetables on sale.

4.3. Consumers and Diet

The 2019 World Scientists’ Warning of a Climate Emergency, endorsed by over 11,000 scientists from more than 150 countries, stated that "eating mostly plant-based foods while reducing the global consumption of animal products, especially ruminant livestock, can improve human health and significantly lower GHG emissions."[48]


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