It is time to empower citizens to lower their carbon footprint, writes EU Climate Commissioner Connie Hedegaard, who has launched a new educational campaign: A world you like. With a climate you like.
"With daily media reports about record CO2 emissions, record ice melts, record droughts, record rainfalls, record food prices, it is no wonder that people get frustrated and concerned about climate change.
When the Commission polled 27,000 Europeans last year, people across the continent responded that they were more worried about the climate challenge than they were before the big climate summit in Copenhagen in 2009. No surprise, in fact.
Of course most people realise that the climate problem wasn't kind enough to disappear, just because we got busy handling the economic crisis.
And yet – despite the growing awareness – too many people in too many countries do too little themselves to take action. Many don't even do the things that would save them time and money. In part it has to do with barriers and lack of incentives. But I believe it also has to do with the fact that fear can only motivate us to a certain point.
Human beings need something to strive for and work towards. We need to know very concretely what we can do. And we need to know that it matters.
Let me stress: it does matter. It means the world, actually. By 2020, we could reduce CO2 pollution by an amount that corresponds to the combined annual emissions of Ireland, France, Finland, Belgium and Portugal if all Europeans changed habits in areas such as eating, shopping, transport, heating and the like.
That is why the European Commission has just launched a new pan-European climate-awareness initiative. Along with Ed Davey, the UK minister for Climate and Energy, Academy Award-winner Colin Firth and leading representatives from businesses and civil society from across Europe I kicked off 'A world you like. With a climate you like' at the London City Hall last week.
'A world you like' is a platform for dialogue on climate solutions. What does that mean? First, rather than focusing only on the problem, we want to focus on how much can be done with existing solutions. Solutions, big and small, that reduce CO2 pollution and increase our quality of life.
I have not been to one single country in the EU that didn't have original, innovative climate solutions to show. Smashing architecture. Climate-friendly corporate headquarters, city halls, hospitals, hotels, even whole neighbourhoods. Smart transport solutions where new technology helps reduce both congestion and pollution. Michelin restaurants that cook exclusively with locally produced ingredients.
Second, it means that we want to go beyond one-way communication. We don't want to lecture people on how to live their lives. We want to share insights – for instance, on how to improve health and reduce energy bills. But we also want to listen and find out what is holding people back from doing things that are obviously a good idea.
Like taking the bike to work, for example. On average, people in big European cities spend eight full days per year stuck in their car in traffic. By taking the bike you save money. You save time. You save CO2. You even save your body around four kilos of fat per year. Seriously: what's not to like? The same goes for energy savings at home. Just turning down the heating by just one degree can reduce your annual bill by 5-10%.
When more people don't do these things already, it must be because they don't know about them or because some barriers are holding them back. We need to know more about these barriers in order to discuss with member state governments how to remove them.
So we invite people to join the debate and participate. And the same goes for partner companies and organisations. To them we offer our website and events as a showroom for their solutions. They will be able to participate in a contest for the best, most original low-carbon solution.
Delivering value-added for the organisations supporting the initiative is essential to us. Because partnerships are the very DNA of the campaign. And we are very grateful for the overwhelming interest organisations across Europe have shown in supporting the initiative.
By the launch, more than 75 organisations from all member states had already signed up as official partners – business associations, NGOs, universities and government institutions. And new initiatives and partnerships are coming along every day.
Last week, a leading Austrian business magazine offered advertising space, the Danish Confederation of Industries offered to arrange a field trip for business representatives to factories that are at the forefront of increasing profits through energy efficiency.
And the international alliance Sustainia headed by Arnold Schwarzenegger announced its support for 'A world you like'.
Over the next year we will work together to establish a political dialogue on how to change behaviour and bring the climate solutions to scale. My call to European governments, businesses, and citizens is this: Join us. Help us with concrete initiatives. Help us share the solutions. Help us identify the best European low-carbon project. Help yourselves save time and money.
Let's help each other build a world we like!"