How effective can UNFCCC’s climate neutral project be in making climate change an individual responsibility ?

When I first saw the twitter video message, in which Christiana Figueres (then chairman of UNFCCC ) inviting global citizens to be climate neutral by offsetting unavoidable emissions by proportionately funding carbon neutralizing projects, I instantly felt it is a great idea. I still think it is and have a great respect for all the efforts from UNFCCC and her.

But here are my qualms,

All the efforts that are taken to make ‘climate change’ as an individual responsibility should target wider citizens in a more inclusive, pragmatic and accelerated pace.

The big questions — will everyone be willing to spend money to offset their emissions ? can everyone afford to pay to offset their emissions.?

 Is it a practical solution asking people to pay to offset their emissions? May not be, because the climate neutral plea was intended to all the global citizens, but unfortunately, it appealed only to a select few. I did a survey walking around asking a few people. People were genuinely behooved by this but they mistook it almost as a charity request (not literally, but psychologically). Nonetheless, they may even buy climate credits to sponsor a carbon neutralizing project but if you ask me how much the whole Individual responsibility thing has gone into people’s head?

Not much !. People are thinking they are doing a favor to someone else. We should make people feel responsible and show empathy( in that order).

Why can’t we flip the equation and let the people be incentivized instead of asking them to pay?

Now before judging me — the incentives can be tangible and/or intangible. (need not be cash). There are two schools of thoughts here 1. Penalising offenders monetarily (like levying a green tax) 2. Incentivising do-gooders.

I am a big fan of the concept of ‘libertarian paternalism’ and ‘nudging’ as advocated by behavioral economics guru Richard Thaler in his books “Nudge” and “Misbehaving”. Yes, it is possible if governments seriously consider nudging people. I mean compelling nudges. I am qualifying the nudges with modifier “compelling” because we need to make nudges that are very attractive and hard to ignore.

“If feedbacks and Incentives are aligned properly, people will respond positively” ( Nudge, the book). This is very true in the case of individuals.

Incentives: Creating a green identity for individuals

Idea is to have a very simple green identity program similar to the credit score and make it a central element of an Individual’s life. Almost everyone has a fair understanding of how maintaining a healthy one affects your life. The best part is governments won’t penalize you for not having a good green identity but you will miss out on some hard-to-ignore incentives. This can come across as a very abstract definition but it can be tailored to the needs of different countries.

So how does green identity work?

Green identity is nothing but points you can accrue for reducing your carbon footprint. It will be a collaborative effort between Governments, climate change advocating councils and well-meaning companies to participate in this program and give away points.

Now, what actions will reduce carbon, how much carbon entails how many points is not something an individual has to worry about. How and at what rate you will earn and the range of incentives you will be entitled to your identity will all be preset.

Green Identity is only valid for one year and adaptive. One year: so you don’t do well in 2016 and be the worst climate offender for the rest of your life with a good green identity. Adaptive: so if a lot of people are doing well you have to do even well to score more!

I am sure governments will have enough in the ‘climate change fund’ or stimulus package to apportion it to the incentives.

Here is how points addition/deduction may work

  • For instance, deducting points every time when you pass the immigration in airports is under the government control. (The points will vary based on miles of fly)
  • Every time you observe Earth hour rewarding points based on the size of your utility is probably the responsibility of “”(We need some changes to the existing app)
  • Based on your power consumption and what slab that your consumption style falls onto you get points rewarded or deducted this is probably the responsibility of the power company.
  • People who own an Electric vehicle or Minimalists who don’t own a car can walk into DMV provide proofs and get points commensurate to that.
  • You earn points for every single ride on a public transport.
  • You earn points for sharing ride using an Uber Pool for instance.

Like I said It will be a collaborative effort between Governments, climate change advocating councils and well-meaning companies to participate in this program and give away points.

Feedbacks: How green identity improves awareness and ‘gamifies’ fighting climate change

Green identity has slabs identified by color codes. It ranges from red, amber and green with green being the best. The green identity shall be tied to the national identification number of a country like SSN and can be checked via a companion mobile app. A crazy futuristic idea is to give out wrist wearables which show your identity slab and can automatically turn from red to amber based on your identity. (For the curious ones the wristband is passive NFC and your mobile app can be tapped on to update the color).

(The wrist wearable was my original idea although later I learned John Tierney of new york times already suggested a gadget but not similar and called it iPed ).

The wearable not only makes green identity a social status (which is awesome) it also acts as feedback mechanism as how good or bad an individual is doing for fighting climate change.

How may the incentives work?

while one simple idea can be to tie-up with Energy efficient product making companies ranging from energy efficient light bulbs to solar panels and let people redeem their points for products.

I learned from Rory sutherland that we can solve social problems ‘psychologically’. I have a few ideas but I am leaving this for now to the world to figure out.