Enabling people to make change toward a sustainable future

Jaime Toney is Professor in Environmental & Climate Science and director of our Centre for Sustainable Solutions. She believes that the changes we make as individuals can make a difference to global warming.

It’s an exciting and daunting time to be a climate scientist in Glasgow. With the release of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s sixth Physical Science Basis report in August 2021, we have learned that humans have caused Earth’s surface to warm by 1.07°C.

"The evidence shows that using language like emergency and crisis to describe the current climate situation is appropriate."

The combination of the warming and how quickly the planet is warming is greater than anything that we have seen in at least the last 2,000 years. These human-induced changes are already having measurable effects on extreme weather and climate events such as heatwaves, rainfall, droughts and tropical cyclones.

The evidence shows that using language like emergency and crisis to describe the current climate situation is appropriate, but there is still a ray of hope because action now can prevent rising global temperatures from breaching the dangerous level of 1.5°C.

There are fantastic examples of UofG researchers leading the way on issues related to climate change, such as preventing vulnerability of UK coastal communities to rising sea levels and shifting shorelines (see We're serious about climate change).

However, one of the biggest challenges to changing our current trajectory is changing practices and behaviours that we consider to be ‘the norm’. At the individual, community and workplace level, we can make the most difference by changing behaviours around food and diet, fossil fuel-based energy, and car and air travel.

Often it is difficult to understand whether these kinds of changes can make a difference in the overall context of global warming. The 1.5 Degree Lifestyles report (2019) by the Institute for Global Environmental Strategies shows that effective change in these three areas can save more than 1 tonne of CO2 emissions per person per year and help get us much closer to the 2.5 tCO2 emissions per person needed by 2030. The average tCO2 per person per year in the UK is 9.7, while people in other countries, like Brazil, have significantly lower annual emissions (ie 2.8 tCO2).

Enabling people to make meaningful change through their actions and their choices requires ongoing education and bringing people together to share successful examples of action.

Over the past several months, I have had the opportunity to develop and deliver new courses at UofG with colleagues that provide life-long learners with practical skills to enable sustainable practices in their homes, communities and workplaces. The first run of our Climate & Carbon Literacy course had around 180 learners across Scotland who calculated where their biggest contributions to CO2 emission came from and worked with their peers to create pathways for change and actually make change towards a sustainable future.

The lead-up to COP26 in Glasgow has raised awareness around the climate emergency and a wide range of partnerships are emerging to tackle some of the biggest challenges that we face. No one person or organisation is going achieve net zero on their own.

I am proud that our Centre for Sustainable Solutions is focused on empowering individuals and building partnerships to help keep our planet below 1.5°C.

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