Emissions targets are nice, however social change is necessary

This is an opinion article by an external contributor. The views belong to the writer.
Emissions targets are nice, however social change is necessary

U.S. President, Joe Biden, recently announced a goal to have 50 percent of new vehicles sold in the United States be fully electric by 2030. Similar aims have been established across Europe, where European Union leaders set a target to have all new vehicles being sold to be zero-emissions by 2035 and in the United Kingdom plans to only allow the sales of zero-emission vehicles by 2030. As political leaders of countries across the globe aim to meet the plans outlined in the Paris Agreement on climate change to reach net zero emissions by 2050, major policy changes are needed to achieve this goal. 

Recent environmental events have also raised the stakes, with massive wildfires across Greece, Turkey, and the United States, as well as catastrophic flooding in Germany, Belgium, the Netherlands, and China. The urgency to meet these changes has been underscored by the newly-released IPCC also recently report on global climate change, based on a three year review of approximately 14,000 peer-reviewed studies, which showed how under current conditions we are likely reaching near-irreversible long-term changes to the climate.

These targets set by political leaders are important environmental policy signals. Alongside independent reports, they show the increasing salience of political concern over climate change and environmental degradation. As politicians show greater prevalence to focus on issues of climate change and developing policy proposals to improve short and long-term environmental conditions, constituents will hopefully also focus on these issues to a greater extent.

The rise of green parties in many European countries may also be reflecting the immediacy felt over environmental concern among voters. Yet, these targets are only a start, and will only take countries so far in terms of tangible change.

Simply outlining emissions targets and zero-emissions vehicle sales numbers in simple figures may be easy to understand, but it is meaningless without social change. 

Companies must find ways to adapt to advancing environmental needs. A recent ruling in Dutch court against petrochemical conglomerate Royal Dutch Shell determined that the company must reduce their emissions contributions by 45 percent of 2019 levels by 2030.

Yet, Shell has also appealed the ruling, showing resistance to the enforcement of change. A number of major companies have recently signed on to their own climate pledge to reach net zero emissions by 2040, but once again actual, rapid change must be taking place internally. If companies are resistant to change, targets will certainly not be met.

Citizens must change alongside industry. We need to understand that currently less than three percent of new vehicles sold in the United States are electric. In Europe, electric vehicles sales are increasingly much faster, but still only account for ten percent of total sales. While electric vehicles, and the companies that produce them, are becoming more prevalent, they still make up a sliver of the market. To make zero-emissions vehicle sales a reality, consumers need to buy these vehicles. This will need to be both an economic and social phenomenon. 

Finally, governments must develop infrastructure to complement change. If electric vehicles are to become the replacement for traditional petrol vehicles, charging station infrastructure expansion is key. People cannot realistically drive electric vehicles if they cannot charge them. Based on the current state of charging station infrastructure, significant investment must be made on the part of governments. Citizens can only change if there is sufficient infrastructure to adapt to changes, and governments must play a role in assisting change.

We need to remember that without action, these targets are just numbers. While numbers may make headlines, people make change, organisations make change, and enforceable policies make change. As we look ahead, past the headlines, we need to see how we can make personal changes in our habits and hold companies and political leaders to account for the tangible decisions they are making in relation to the environment.

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