COP24 is about to conclude in Katowice, Poland and the link between consumerism and climate change has received little attention. A few events have been organized during the last two weeks at the COP24 on the matter, including one side event held by the Global Climate Action on December 8, 2018 entitled Impacts for a more sustainable and responsible consumption. But there has been little discussion, overall, about the impact consumerism—our own individual choices and way of living—has on our planet.
A legitimate reflection one might have about COP24 is on its ecological footprint. Are we walking the talk? The UN reports that greenhouse gas (“GHG”) emissions due to the event will be tracked through a calculation by the organizers and it is anticipated that COP24 will have generated approximately 55,000 tons of CO2. It further specifies that in order to offset this, the Polish Government has committed to planting more than 6 million trees, capable of absorbing the equivalent of the conference’s emissions in the next 20 years. But is offsetting the sustainable, long-term solution as it concretely does not remove the trash that has been produced from this event, and the energy and resources it took to build it, among other things?
Consumerism plays a significant role in climate change. As underscored by one author, studies have shown that what we consume—from food to clothes to toiletries—is responsible for up to 60% of global GHG emissions and between 50 and 80% of total land, material, and water use.
At COP24, there has been emphasis on how political will is a fundamental element to addressing climate change. Indeed, political actions represent a big part of the solution. Additional efforts should be invested into integrating businesses and the private sector more effectively into the development and implementation of solutions to address the climate crisis.
However, we sometime like to place responsibility on others—something bigger, out of our control—but when 60-80% of the impacts on the planet come from our own individual consumption, more attention should be placed on our own habits as consumers.
As stressed by one author, if we changed our consumption habits, we could have a dramatic effect on our environmental footprint, on what businesses are producing, and on what the financial sector is funding. It is true that it is fundamental that various stakeholders are engaged in addressing the climate issue—including, particularly governments at local, national and international levels and industries. But we also need to do our fair share according to our means. Certain initiatives have been developed to sensitize citizens at a larger scale. For example, recently, in Quebec, Canada, the Pact for a transition from words to actions (the “Pacte”) was created in November 2018 to unite citizens across the province, beyond their political differences to take specific necessary actions in their day-to-day to transition towards a low-carbon future.
More similar initiatives worldwide could help to put consumerism at the forefront of the climate solutions. As indicated by the Pacte, with strength in numbers, and with deep, smart lifestyle changes, things could likely progress faster.