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Time to Trade Collective Inertia for Collective Action

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By Jane McDonald, September 20, 2019

To get where we need to on climate action, we need to do a lot of things.

Here’s what we don’t need to do.

We don’t need to continue debating whether humans are the cause of global warming. The vast majority of actively publishing climate scientists, along with a clear majority of the general population worldwide, already agree on this. We don’t need to quibble over the minutiae of every single action we are or aren’t taking in our personal lives to make a difference—yes, let’s cut down our meat consumption and use energy-efficient light bulbs; no, we mustn’t all live off the grid and eat only root vegetables.

What should we do? Think bigger, for starters.

We should demand that investors factor climate risks into their analyses. One asset manager, AllianceBernstein, recently became so convinced of this that it is requiring all portfolio managers and analysts to attend a climate change bootcamp.

We should reform subsidies that work against sustainable development, such as the hundreds of billions of government dollars spent on fossil fuel subsidies instead of on social programs or renewable energy.

We should make sure we’re not leaving anyone behind as we move to a low-carbon world. That starts with using the right data showing us where vulnerable people are at risk. And it means breaking down silos, listening to underrepresented voices and working together—because it is only through the collective and concerted effort of citizens and school children, business leaders and power brokers, activists and analysts that we will overcome the inertia that endangers us all.

As global citizens, world leaders and youth activists come together in New York this week under the umbrella of the UN General Assembly to discuss, debate, protest and participate. We really hope the focus will be on putting solutions into action—and on how we can all be working together.

IISD’s work is grounded in collaboration because we know this approach leads to better outcomes. We convene the world’s largest forum on sustainable mining, bringing together industry, governments and international organizations. We conduct research at the world’s only freshwater institute that tests whole ecosystems, working with communities, business leaders and scientists from around the world. We manage the preeminent global network helping vulnerable people adapt to a changing climate, producing concrete actions at the national level in countries like Fiji and Ethiopia. And we work with governments and partners to help remove or reform harmful subsidies that work against climate action.

Climate change is a complex and truly global challenge. The economic, social, political and moral implications don’t stop at any border. Our response must be coordinated at all levels—from international laws and policies, to agreements between countries, to action at the city level, to individual behavioural change.

What happens next is up to us, and the time to start is now.