“The topic of climate behaviour change is under extensive discussion, as for example the UK’s climate change committee has estimated that over 60 percent of the required climate actions also require a change in behaviour.” Thus summarized senior researcher Jarno Tuominen the importance of behavioural climate policies in the discussion panel organized by CLIMATE NUDGE consortium at COP26 conference in Glasgow.
You can watch the whole hour-long discussion on YouTube above.
The discussion “Behavioural climate policy in the global community” on Sunday evening brought together scientists and ethicists to discuss how behavioural steering instruments such as nudges and boosts work and what are their effects and limitations.
The chairman is Jarno Tuominen, and the panellists professor Till Grüne-Yanoff, professor Kai Ruggeri, and senior researchers Nils Sandman and Polaris Koi. Here is a short excerpt of the discussion and some of the main points presented by the participants:
To change behaviour we must understand behaviour
Senior researcher Nils Sandman (University of Turku) introduced the work being done by the CLIMATE NUDGE consortium in Finland – how the researchers aim to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from traffic, and to fortify carbon sinks in forests by nudge interventions. Sandman stressed the importance of bridging the so-called value action gap:
“The gap means that even when people have some sort of motivation and they have the ability to act, they often do not do anything.”
According to Sandman, in order to overcome this gap and to change behaviour, we must first understand behaviour:
“Humans are not completely rational decision-makers, and this challenges the purely economical models of behaviour. Providing information and adjusting economic incentives is often not sufficient to make people take action – the action must be made easy and socially as well as emotionally satisfying.”
Boosts and nudges – what are the differences?
In his presentation, prof Till Grüne-Yanoff talked about the differences between two behavioural policies – nudges and boosts. He used as an example their current experiment in Sweden.
“It is important to distinguish between types of behavioural policy. Nudges harness common cognitive biases while boosts increase competences. This distinction helps us to develop a menu from which the policymaker can choose in their aim of finding the most effective and persistent intervention for a given problem.”
Any interventions attempting to encourage or discourage behaviours among low income populations must be matched with immediate meaningful incentivesKai Ruggeri
As an example of a boost Grüne -Yanoff takes us into the kitchen:
“For example, most people in their kitchens have multiple cooking appliances, like stove top, oven, microwave. Many people don’t know that using a microwave for preparing food is a lot more energy efficient than using for example the oven. And this is what we specifically do in an experiment here in Stockholm – we provide appliance specific energy information with a help of a QR code that individuals can scan and acquire information from, about the comparative energy efficiency.”
“But then, more importantly, we provide them with actionable strategies, little tricks, little suggestions how to implement a more energy efficient behaviour for example by providing them with recipes for microwave cooked dishes that before they only knew how to cook in the oven or on the stovetop.”
Nudges for the wealthy only? – an inequality perspective
Professor Kai Ruggeri underlined that economic inequality is a major factor in dealing with the climate change:
“Take for example the interventions that are being talked about when reducing emissions. Things like purchasing electric vehicles or reducing air travel or changing our diets or reducing food waste.”
“These interventions really speak to a middle and higher income population around the world, the people that would have the resources to purchase an electric vehicle – – and to be able to reduce air travel you have to be doing it in the first place.”
For paternalist judges the benefit falls on the same population that is being nudged, but this is not true for nudges that target the common good like nudging for donating blood or promoting a healthy climate.Polaris Koi
According to Ruggeri, the challenge is that the majority of the world is either poor or low income. Therefore, economic inequality is fundamentally central to any climate policy, especially when we are talking about behavioural interventions.
“Any interventions attempting to encourage or discourage behaviours among low income populations must be matched with immediate meaningful incentives. For example, what is the local benefit of banning plastic bags and how soon will it come?”
Senior researcher Polaris Koi analyzed the role of climate nudges between local and global justice:
“There is a big difference between traditional paternalist nudges and nudging for climate. That difference can be summarized in the question ”cui bono” – who benefits?”
“For paternalist judges the benefit falls on the same population that is being nudged, but this is not true for nudges that target the common good like nudging for donating blood or promoting a healthy climate. This means that the ethical questions concerning climate nudges are entirely different. We need to ask if climate nudges are justified in the global justice context.”
There’s also an important question of trust in governance to consider:
“We are in a political climate where in some areas trust in governance is limited. If nudges are perceived as manipulative, this can add to the problem. This is another factor we need to take into account to make sure that the nudges do not backfire.”