scorecardIndividual households are doing the most to fight climate change, but governments are struggling to reciprocate: study
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Individual households are doing the most to fight climate change, but governments are struggling to reciprocate: study

Individual households are doing the most to fight climate change, but governments are struggling to reciprocate: study
SustainabilitySustainability2 min read
If you've grown up in an Indian metropolitan city, chances are that things look much cleaner now than in your childhood. While constant reminders from our teachers and parents to use dustbins might've felt rather irksome initially, they did go a massive way to reduce litter on the streets and in our homes.

Now, from rainwater harvesting to waste segregation, more and more households are reshaping their daily routines and work practices to create a more sustainable future. While these concerned communities continue to drive change on the frontlines, their institutional allies aren't being nearly as sincere, research has found.

As inspiring as household change may be, big businesses and industries remain the major contributors to climate change. They need to be more forthcoming in adopting more sustainable practices for us to achieve tangible change in our limited time — something that can most effectively be achieved by stricter sanctions.

However, a new study has found that governments often take a backseat to these matters, preferring to plan and finance climate change adaptation measures such as incentivising green infrastructure. This rang true even in areas where the government was more involved than usual.

“Individuals are primarily focused on changing what they can control: their own behaviours,” said co-author Elphin Tom Joe. “That’s needed, but so is action from institutional actors who can coordinate more broadly impactful adaptation.”

Across the globe, individuals and households were doing the most to adapt to climate change on average compared to their governments, the study found. The divide tended to widen further in rural areas, but the trend somehow reversed in high-resource urban areas.

However, even in high-income countries such as the United States or the UK, the government primarily suggested mere guidance on climate adaptation actions. Ultimately, it fell upon the individual to switch to more sustainable practices, such as picking flood-prevention measures or drought-resilient seeds. For the not-so-well-off, this can be at great personal and financial cost that they might not be able to manage effectively.

Shifting the outdoor working hours to cooler parts of the day might seem like a small change, but it can mean reduced business and a greater burden on the worker's health. Additionally, the authors worry that such individual change, while undoubtedly inspiring, still does little to spur the quintessential institutional change that is needed to create tangible results.

“In rural areas, especially in Africa or the global south, individuals are doing what they have the agency to do — changing crops to something more resilient, maybe changing livelihoods from farming to fishing or even migrating,” explains another co-author Christine Kirchhoff. “And, while they will need to continue to take action, since they are the ones feeling the impacts the most, we still need all other actors to contribute to implementation.”

The findings of this research have been published in Nature Climate Change and can be accessed here.

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