Headline: Climate Action Programme – On the Need for ‘Structural’ Change

Part 1 of a blog series on climate protection and structural change through participation by Katleen de Flander and Ina Richter

In recent weeks, the issue of climate protection has been high on the national and international political agenda. At international level, participants at the UN Climate Conference in Lima last week laid the foundations for a global climate agreement that is due to be concluded next year in Paris. In Germany, discussions centred on the cabinet’s decision on the Climate Action Programme 2020. This programme is expected to contribute significantly to achieving Germany’s goal of reducing CO2 emissions by at least 40 per cent by 2020 in comparison with 1990, while also setting an example for the international negotiations. Moreover, it gives impetus to the long-term national climate protection plan that is due to be created in consultation with many different stakeholders and adopted in 2016. More specifically, the Action Programme formulates a range of measures that will close the existing emissions ‘gap’ of 22 tons of CO2 per year. Over 50 separate projects are aiming for additional reductions in CO2 emissions in sectors such as the energy industry, the production industry, transport, trade, and even in households. In particular, renovation projects are set to play a central role. And, as the supplementary National Energy Efficiency Action Plan demonstrates, efforts to increase energy efficiency will also extend to other areas.

In the short term, the government is banking on projects that strive, in essence, towards an increase in efficiency and a progressive shift in technology from fossil to renewable energy carriers. Yet, in the long term, climate protection entails far more than changes on the supply and production sides. It is a collaborative task that demands a fundamental societal shift – a transformation in all parts of society. To fulfil this task, we must change individual and collective patterns of behaviour and firmly establish climate-friendly lifestyles. The urgency of such a rethink is highlighted not least by phenomena such as ‘rebound effects’, where greater efficiency is accompanied by an increase in energy consumption. Such effects are particularly evident in transport and private households. They show that changing to more energy-efficient products, such as energy-saving bulbs or cars that use less fuel, may actually lead to behavioural changes that increase usage, thereby offsetting the benefits of greater efficiency.

In her recent contribution to this blog, Katleen De Flander put forward an idea that is central to this issue. Focussing in particular on urban systems, she points out that ecological challenges are mainly the result of socio-technical systems, i.e. human-made structures that have become second nature like road networks or our global food system that makes the means by which food is produced less visible for consumers. De Flander argues for the transformation of these socio-technical systems that are conducive to a certain kind of demand behaviour and prevent or impede resource-conserving practices in urban spaces.

Particularly where cities are concerned, this approach represents one way of linking the issues of climate protection and urban development that also takes account of developments such as urbanisation, demographic change and an increasingly heterogeneous urban population.

The next contributions to this blog series will introduce new ideas from our as yet unpublished concept, which is partly based on Thaler and Sunstein's concept of “nudging” (which will be introduced in a separate blog entry) und Changing Choice Architecture[1], in order to encourage discussion on the opportunities and drawbacks of this approach. Beyond that, we wish to show why this approach not only complements the demand “to create opportunities for participation by citizens and encourage people to make use of their resources and scope for action”[2] formulated in the Action Programme 2020, but is also an essential prerequisite for its fulfilment.

Photo: istock

[1] Thaler, Richard & Cass Sunstein (2008), Nudge: Improving Decisions about Health, Wealth, and Happiness, Yale University Press.

[2] Federal Ministry for the Environment, Nature Protection, Building and Nuclear Safety (ed.), Climate Action Programme 2020, 10.