Tackling climate change: changing the narrative around uncomfortable truths

12 January 2022

Beating back climate change will be the biggest accomplishment of our lives. 2021 was the year, helped by COP26, when the world shifted up a gear in response to the emergency and 2022 is look set to be busier than ever. If we are to keep the 1.5-degree target alive, then we are all going to have to face up to and turn around some uncomfortable truths:

Climate change view of two planets with a tree

Technology or system change? It’s not either/or

Many countries at COP 26 showcased big, eye-catching green technology projects with a focus on innovating our way out of the climate crisis. But this will only get us so far. We need to both invest in the new and wean ourselves off our dependency on the old. This means fundamentally changing the global systems on which we rely to produce the food we eat, create the buildings we live and work in, make the clothes we wear and manufacture the goods we need to live our lives.

There must be recognition of the need to re-invent the modern industrialised world, which can no longer be fuelled by our planet in its current form. This will be a huge undertaking, but it means we have an opportunity not only to tackle climate change, but to redress the fault lines of inequality, poor health and working conditions, exploitation that opened up as industrialisation evolved. We have the chance to build a healthier, fairer, world.

Thinking beyond borders

The climate crisis is felt everywhere. So, solutions have to involve thinking beyond borders, beyond agendas, beyond politics and beyond profit. It is too tempting to think territorially and get your own house in order but simply displace the problem elsewhere. This is the case for countries thinking about emissions in their own borders, but also for businesses looking to balance their own books in terms of the climate impact of their own operations, but failing to address those along their supply chains. The problem is offshored, displaced, unaccounted for, but doesn’t go away.

System change at every stage of global supply chains, tackling consumption emissions through transcending borders and business domains has to be considered alongside tackling only territorial emissions. We’ve shown it can be done through the power of partnership; underpinned by smart globally aligned policies from governments (which unlock investment) and where citizens are an essential part of the journey. This creates a joined-up, global movement for change, where everyone is working to the same goal and supporting those countries who are less able to deal with the climate emergency themselves, but whose citizens are often feeling the worst effects.

Graphic showing the global supply chain featuring a map of world and movement of goods and services

A new way of consuming

When you consider that nearly half of all greenhouse gas emissions are down to the way we produce and consume, our current model is incompatible with a 1.5 vision. Our take-make-waste culture is also using up our planet’s stock of valuable natural resources faster than it can replenish them. If we are to solve this, then we need to change the way we consume.

Every aspect of human survival is embellished by ‘stuff’. We are filling our fridges with food that we don’t eat, our wardrobes with clothes that we don’t wear and our attics with broken or outdated electronics that we don’t use. A 1.5-degree world is one where we don’t waste food, we wear our clothes for more seasons, and we repair our electrical goods to keep them working. Where new goods are designed and built to be in circulation for as long as possible. And where we end the staggering amount of waste which is not only contributing to climate change, but polluting our countryside and our oceans, and damaging biodiversity.

Businesses and governments are both crucial in making this shift. They will need to support the development of new business models to support this different way of consuming. If they get it right, it will be a big opportunity rather than a threat to our way of life.

We are already seeing this shift happening, with consumers being increasingly able to rent clothes, lease cars, buy electrical goods with long warranties, and access a growing supply of remanufactured furniture. The latter in particular has huge potential.  I sit on a remanufactured office chair which is high-quality, comfortable, cost half as much as the new equivalent and resulted in a fraction of the greenhouse gas emissions caused by making a new one.

New ways of consuming won’t negatively affect the quality of our lives - they will enhance it. A washing machine built to last which doesn’t break down, or is fixed if it does, is a better way of living. The calculator which still works decades after it was bought is still great to use. Not wasting food saves us up to £700 for the average family at the moment. This is a win-win world.

WRAP's model of working highlights our products against our vision and mission

Reframing the narrative

We need to think globally, remodelling systems and not just looking after our own backyards.  But just how uncomfortable really is this?  We’re not advocating a hair-shirt existence or a return to lives pre-industrial revolution. A world where resources are used sustainably is a better world with multiple benefits. This truth needs to inform the narrative.

For consumers we get affordable goods that last and ease our environmental footprint (something we all want to do). What isn’t there to like about saving money by not wasting it on food we don’t eat or clothes we don’t wear? Our Love Food Hate Waste and Love Your Clothes campaigns are already showing the way.

For businesses, this approach unlocks innovation, opens up exciting new markets and creates the opportunity to make significant financial savings. We know that the median return on investment for reducing food loss and waste is 14:1.  It also means they are also better serving their consumers – our research show that they want and expect businesses to do more to tackle climate change. UK businesses are working together and stepping up to the plate through WRAP’s Courtauld Commitment, Textiles 2030 and The UK Plastics Pact. They are already reaping the benefits of collaboration and system change. They will be ahead of the game.

For governments, this offers a way to meet international environmental commitments, stimulate innovation and investment, build economies, and create jobs. It will be delivering what people want too – working together to tackle climate change and making a better world.  Doesn’t that sound like a recipe for getting re-elected?

So, even though the scale of change is undoubtedly daunting, that truth doesn’t need to be uncomfortable. The potential is for a life which is exciting and progressive; the chance to build a healthier planet and a fairer world for us and future generations. By embracing that opportunity, that truth can start today.