With less than a decade left to stem the worst global climate impacts, we need to think critically about getting proven climate actions to scale, rather than languishing in the “pilot project” category. At TAF, we’ve demonstrated the business case and the multiple public benefits of many low-carbon solutions. Yet many of these technologies, programs, and policies have yet to reach broad acceptance and commercial adoption. Why? We have less and less time and more and more evidence that deep decarbonization actions, like electrification of transportation and net-zero homes and buildings, will work and yet these ideas are not scaling. As we find ourselves in the middle of an unprecedented time of global pandemic, rapid economic shift and social uprising, there is arguably no better time to achieve radical change, starting with three guiding principles:
Break down the siloes already
Many climate advocates have long worked in a cozy bubble, reinforcing our own beliefs. Granted, we work this way for good reason – it allows us to remain focused, and to become really good at what we do. Branching out to build new, more diverse relationships and to consider climate actions from multiple new perspectives may feel like something that will slow us down right when we feel we should be speeding up to avoid the worst impacts of climate change.
But advocating and implementing climate solutions independently of other players is just not working. We need to seize on the clear connections between issues like public health, housing affordability, job creation, culture, and resilience, and use the combined powers and diverse perspectives of different sectors (business, finance, government, civic, academic, etc.) to propel us forward. “Bridging” different sectors and departments requires new skills and working with people who may not share our views. But there is simply no other way we can build a strategy that represents the broader community and spectrum of needs and issues they face – a strategy that results in more durable change. We may even have to let climate initiatives take a back seat. So far, we’ve referred to public health and affordability benefits as the “co-benefits” of climate actions. But perhaps carbon reduction can be the bonus outcome of other issues that have high resonance with the public at large – like affordable housing or economic recovery.
Equitable access should guide climate policy
We know now more than ever that working on policy advocacy within our climate silo, we’ve often unintentionally excluded the perspectives of many of the people most affected by climate change and climate policies, contributing to ingrained social injustice. For example, retrofit and electric vehicle incentives may drive the market, but they most benefit those who can afford to upgrade their buildings or cars. Policy change is powerful in that it can have a more immediate impact and drive significant carbon reduction, but we need to ensure it is informed by the voices of diverse communities and designed to maximize community benefits and distribute them fairly. Part of this work is to deepen our understanding of the similarities between the root causes for social inequities and climate issues. As for public programs supporting climate action, perhaps practitioners must now recognize that equitable access has a direct impact on the success – and therefore carbon outcomes – of the tools we develop.
Learn to leverage the tipping points
When something arises that impacts the equilibrium of a system and brings about a sudden shifts, we can seize the opportunity to entrench new thinking and practice. For example, public attitudes and values emerging from the COVID 19 pandemic – like working from home, new openness to urban cycling, and close-to-home vacations — could help embed behavior that reduces emissions from transportation. At the same time, major public spending to stem the economic crises stimulated by the pandemic could help entrench a cleaner economy that produces good jobs. We need to be sensitive and responsive to these tipping points when they arise and consciously build our ability to make full use these opportune moments to more quickly advance the changes we’re seeking.
As colleagues and practitioners who care about climate and social change, we need to start thinking about how climate actions fit within broader spheres of public concern, and if we have any hope of getting the results that are represented in all our ambitious climate plans, we better start trying some new things. This year we commissioned a report on scale pathways, developed with support from researchers at the Rotman School of Management at the University of Toronto, which informed the three guiding principles above. Full disclosure: we’re just scratching the surface of learning how to implement these pathways to scale. Luckily, we have a lot of help! The newly formed Low Carbon Cities Canada (LC3) network, of which TAF is a founding member, aims to enable the scaling of proven low-carbon action models in seven city regions across Canada. As we in the environmental movement ask other industries to undergo massive transformation, so must we lead by example to overhaul the status quo and accelerate scale of climate solutions Canada-wide.