Industrialised nations, largely, operate democratic free-market models. As such a fundamental challenge is how to obtain the popular mandate to make the highly unpopular choices on behalf of their electorates that will be necessary to bring about the transition to a low-carbon economy in the timescale required.
For example, we require rapid sustainable change in many areas and on several levels, not least in the aspirations, behaviours, processes, and asset base of individuals/consumers, commerce and industry. Business as usual, market-driven investment decision making will not see an acceptable financial return from funding these changes. With finite monetary resources at their disposal, increased regulation is therefore inevitable. How do governments win over the populace by imposing wholesale restrictions on individual’s freedom of choice/action?
Additionally, if we are to avoid wholesale de-industrialisation and undesirable lifestyle changes then decarbonisation will need vast amounts of energy (as well as money) – where will this necessarily low-carbon energy come from? Is it even technically or politically feasible to deliver this amount of energy when and where it is needed? What impact will this have on the holy grail of GDP growth as the yard stick of a government’s success?
While it is clear that a timely and sustainable transition to a low carbon economy will require governments to rapidly win the hearts and minds of their electorates, it is equally clear this must be done on the basis of substantive infrastructure and asset improvements. Experience shows that superficial behavioural measures alone have very little persistence. Hence the top priority is to devise and implement a fully coherent series of mutually re-enforcing measures. These should be rooted in a long-term vision of fundamental and structural energy-efficiency improvement and supported by technological innovation and low embedded low carbon energy supply.
The relative priorities are very important for winning over and therefore changing the aspirations and behaviours of the people in the industrialised economies. Communication should play a vital role but the actions need to speak louder than the words; there is no time for token gestures; and overuse of marketing and ‘spin’ would be highly counter-productive. It is time to ‘walk the talk’.
Dr Peter Stones, Regional M.D. Enviros Consulting Ltd