It’s time Canadians embraced equitable, low carbon lifestyles

By Stephen Huddart

Some observers regard the COP26 summit in Glasgow as a turning point in the race against climate change, setting humanity’s course toward an equitable, sustainable future. However, unless we build on what was accomplished there, future generations might well ask how, with so much at stake and so little time left, we could have fallen so far short of what was needed.

As we enter a crucially important decade to address our future on this planet, it’s worth considering how we can all help tip the scale away from societal collapse towards hopeful outcomes. It’s time Canadians embraced equitable, low carbon lifestyles.

Glasgow was the culmination of intense efforts by governments and their civil society allies and critics. Significantly, it was the first time that the world’s business and financial leadership showed up in such force. Important results include commitments to curb methane emissions; end global deforestation; accelerate coal phase-out; accelerate the introduction of zero emission vehicles; and align the world’s financial sector with achieving net-zero targets.

But the danger is that even fulfilling these commitments will result in a global temperature rise of three degrees or more by the end of the century. In some ways, COP26 both exceeded expectations and fell short of what’s needed.

Now, we all have a role to play.

Canadians who remember the federal government’s “One Tonne Challenge” and exhortations to “reduce, re-use and recycle” may doubt that individual actions amount to much in the face of say, oil and gas industry expansion. However, the 2020 UN Emissions report notes that two thirds of global carbon emissions are linked to the consumption behaviour of private households. As the 2021 Cambridge Sustainability Commission on Behaviour Change and the Climate Crisis explains, sustainable behaviours at the individual and political levels are mutually reinforcing.

Public action is critical. But it’s not just about getting rid of plastic straws. Addressing excesses and inequities in consumption involves relinquishing conventional notions of wealth and progress to pursue shared well-being and improved quality of life for everyone.

Despite living in a large country where temperature extremes are the norm, there is much that we can do to bring our lifestyles within planetary limits. Changing how we eat (less meat and dairy, less waste, and more seasonal produce); travel (fewer flights, more online meetings); shop (less stuff, more sharing) and invest (more measured environmental and social impact) will reduce carbon emissions and send important signals to policy makers and business leaders.

A surprising and unintended result of COVID-19 lockdowns was a steep, temporary decline in carbon emissions. While lockdowns and permanent lifestyle changes are different matters, COVID-19 has shown that governments, civil society and the private sector can work together to effect rapid change when we need to.

Climate change, the deeper crisis of our time, requires us all to heed the urgent call to action.

Stephen Huddart is a founding member of the Transition Innovation Group hosted by Community Foundations of Canada.

Photo: Marc Bruxelle, iStock