The Climate Paradox: Can We Resolve It?

In 2023, we are grappling with a paradox: people, products, and policies are building momentum to address the climate crisis while GHG emissions, social equity, and environmental health worsen.

The 2010s illuminated this paradox is various ways. Marketers described the millennial generation as a new type of conscious consumer, yet “fast fashion” and conspicuous consumption accelerated. Analysts forecasted a rapid decline in the cost of renewable technologies – which did materialize – yet these energy sources remain stubbornly low contributors to global total energy. And the 2010s witnessed 196 parties signing the Paris Climate Agreement, yet today not one of these countries has policies in place compatible with limiting warming to 1.5C.

Since 2020, Dual Citizen LLC has solicited feedback from green economy experts about this issue through two waves of surveying: the first in spring of 2020 at the beginning of the Covid lockdown and the second ongoing now in winter/spring of 2023. As of March 2023, over 2,800 responses have been received to the online survey, in addition to dozens of follow-up interviews. This work has been developed further through a residency at the Rockefeller Foundation’s Bellagio Center. The preliminary results from both waves of surveying are summarized below:

  • A plurality of respondents attributed the sharp rise in awareness about climate change in the 2010s to highly publicized severe weather events, with less credit given to political leaders or the scientific community. However, many respondents warned against too closely linking the phrase “climate change” to these events as this association is viewed as “elitist” and “vague” to the general population.
  • A plurality of respondents expressed disillusionment with the Conference of Parties (COP) process and advocated for a greater focus on financial support for the developing world to deal with climate adaptation, as well as compliance mechanisms to enforce emission reduction pledges by the large emitters.
  • When asked to name the development that had the most tangible impact on realizing green progress in the 2010s, a strong majority of respondents listed either market factors (e.g. cheaper renewables, carbon taxes, green bonds) or people-driven movements (e.g. Fridays for Future, fossil fuel divestment, plastics ban).  
  • When asked why exploration and subsidies for fossil fuels persisted in the 2010s, a plurality of respondents credited the strength of the fossil fuel lobby, more than economic factors like pricing, return on investment or costs committed in existing infrastructure. A majority of respondents in both waves of surveys advocate for the removal of fossil fuel subsidies and introduction of policies that disincentivize fossil fuel investment.
  • Most respondents believe that placing climate risk at the center of economic decision-making holds the greatest potential to accelerate global climate action in the 2020s. Many of these respondents also suggested that finance ministers play a greater role in 2020s climate diplomacy given their clout in most national governments compared to environment ministers.
  • Many respondents supported a “Green Free Trade Agreement” and a more narrow focus on certain “tipping points” like electric vehicles whose continued growth could also help to reduce the cost of renewable energy and batteries.
  • Many respondents emphasized education as a key to unlocking green progress in the 2020s, making climate-related instruction mandatory in primary and secondary education; shifting the perceived impacts of climate change from nature to humans; and mainstreaming the topic to a wider range of stakeholders in business.
  • Many respondents supported dropping coal companies from funds run by asset managers in the 2020s, yet almost none supported a phase out of coal-producers by state-backed enterprises in China and India. In a similar vein, almost no respondents believed that much greater focus should be on China and India to significantly reduce their emissions in the 2020s.
  • Most respondents advocated a more “bottom-up” approach to accelerating change in the 2020s, citing voter pressure on governments, investor pressure on companies and grassroots pressure as the most likely pathways to improvements in the next decade.

For more information on this project, please contact jeremy at dualcitizeninc dot com.

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