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Sobriety, a lever to accelerate the fight against climate change

What role can individuals play in limiting global warming? For the first time, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) devotes a chapter, in the third part of its sixth assessment report, published on Monday 4 April, to the demand for energy and services – rather than supply. Researchers point out that socio-cultural and lifestyle changes can “accelerate” mitigation of climate change.

“Reducing demand has an impact on reducing greenhouse gas emissions, so it was interesting to explore this lever, explains Nadia Maïzi, one of the chapter’s authors and researcher at Mines Paris-PSL. We have tried to take into account elements related to behaviors, lifestyles and uses and to link them to well-being or what constitutes a decent minimum income.. »

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Among some sixty individual actions, the authors of the IPCC recall which are the most effective: giving preference to walking or cycling over the car, reducing air travel, adjusting the temperature of the air conditioning, limiting the use of electrical appliances or even adopt a less meat-based diet. They point out that the wealthiest individuals have significant potential for reducing their emissions, while maintaining a decent standard of living.

Generally low motivation

To be implemented, these initiatives require both “motivation” and an “capacity to change” ; yet the motivation of individuals or households to change their energy consumption habits is generally low. For them to take place, they must therefore be part of a broader structural and cultural change.

This attention paid by the IPCC to the question of demand echoes the current debates around sobriety: in France, it is this term that encompasses issues related to the behavior and uses of individuals, as well as to the organization collective of society and lifestyles – this word is not used in Anglo-Saxon countries. Sobriety differs from energy efficiency, which relies on the technical improvement of equipment (to provide the same service while consuming less).

If the concept is old, scientists and then energy players have gradually replaced it at the center of the debate in a context of environmental emergency: the more time passes, the more the equation to hope to achieve carbon neutrality in 2050 is complicated to solve, and the more it seems necessary to use all possible levers.

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