The latest Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report is stimulating discussion about “sufficiency”—the notion that societies must turn away from never-ending economic growth and find ways to provide for human needs consistent with the 1.5 ºC global warming target.
An expert panel in a webinar on demand-side measures in the IPCC report stressed that sufficiency is not just about individual behaviour change: it will require systemic change in technologies, institutions, policies, product design, land use, and even (or especially) the world of marketing and advertising.
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Session moderator and Rapid Transition Alliance Coordinator Andrew Simms said it’s now understood that human well-being “does not depend on a high level of consumption.” In fact, “demand-curb” in rich countries can lead to better health and well-being.
The latest IPCC report is the first to include a chapter on demand, said chapter contributor Leila Naimir of the International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis. The report reinforced that deep emission reductions, amounting to 43% by 2030, are needed to meet the 1.5 ºC target. Naimir cited some of the necessary changes, including urban design to place destinations like work, shops, and services within walking and cycling distances.
“The right thing must be the easy thing to do,” said Simms.
Today’s economies are about money, not human needs, said Munster University professor Doris Fuchs. “If they were about needs we would be talking about services, not dollars.” Billions are spent on advertising to drive demand for carbon-intensive goods, she added.
But changing society to meet climate targets poses some “uncomfortable questions” about protections against marketing more high-emitting goods, the relationship between democracy and profit-seeking, and “our vision of the good life,” said Fuchs, coordinator of the 1.5 Lifestyles EU Project.
When we promote sufficiency, there is a risk of being accused of “wanting to send everyone back to the caves—the end of a happy life,” said panelist Elisabeth Dütschke, of the FULFILL EU Project, which is studying the role of “lifestyle changes and citizen engagement in decarbonizing Europe.” But she said climate protection and human well-being are “not contradictory.”
Dütschke and other panelists stressed that sufficiency is not just about demand-curb for the affluent. The global South also needs “to catch up” to ensure a decent livelihood for all.
The good news, though, is that public dialogue is breaking through the “taboo about discussing limits to growth,” said Fuchs. The pandemic has helped raise the issue of work-life balance, including the question of who goes back to the office (among those who were able to work from home) and how often.
Simms pointed continuing discussion about a shorter work week, and the role of the state in helping to meet basic human needs. Income redistribution needs to be considered, said Fuchs, since “working less is not an option for many who have three jobs just to make ends meet.”
Dütschke cited public health care is an example of a successful non-market approach to sufficiency, while Fuchs called for approaches to culture change that could include a television sitcom featuring a family living a sufficiency lifestyle.
During the current French elections, presidential candidate Emmanuel Macron spoke of the need for “energy sufficiency,” noted Eduoard Toulouse of the ENOUGH Network. “I am not sure he knew just what he was saying, but it is a positive sign that the language of sufficiency has made its way into a presidential debate,” he said.
ENOUGH is a research network on sufficiency that has collected hundreds of articles on the topic, including many on the role of marketing, Toulouse said.