New Ottawa research unit seeks to adjust attitudes to climate choices

“The choices of Canadians and businesses will play an important role in the fight against climate change”

Ottawa wants to know what it would take to convince Canadians to switch to electric vehicles and take other climate-friendly action. To find out, the government designed a behavioral science and climate change program to find the best ways to motivate people to change.

Top priorities also include studying how to encourage energy efficient retrofits, according to documents obtained by Canada’s National Observer as part of a federal access to information request.

The behavior change program was launched in September, pursuant to a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) signed by Environment and Climate Change Canada (ECCC), Natural Resources Canada (NRCan) and the Impact and Climate Unit. innovation from the Privy Council Office (PCO).

ECCC is interested in a wide range of issues – from how to encourage a circular economy that sees more products reused, resold, repaired, remanufactured and shared, to how Canadians would respond to increased transparency on climate plans of the government.

“In addition to major changes in energy, transportation, agriculture and other large-scale systems, the choices of Canadians and businesses will play an important role in addressing climate change,” the door said. – ECCC speech, Samantha Bayard.

“We need to do more and faster, and we know that awareness and education on their own is often not enough to bring about behavior change. “

ECCC says behavioral science research will yield data on people’s choices to better understand barriers to climate action.

“It will help us translate the emotions, habits, beliefs, biases and social context of real life into practical ways to improve the design and delivery of the programs, processes, regulations, communications and other interactions we have.” with the Canadiens, ”said Bayard.

David Hardisty, associate professor and chair of the marketing and behavioral sciences division at the Sauder School of Business at the University of British Columbia, said understanding people’s behavior should be seen as one tool among many. others, alongside things like legislation. But citing the ongoing pandemic as an example of public health rules being flouted by some people, he said it was clear the new rules were not always enough to bring about change.

“Maybe we’ve under-invested in understanding human psychology and human behavior in this area, and it shows how you can’t just rely on changing the laws,” he said. “Climate change is also a polarized problem, it’s a complicated problem, and you can’t just fix the law and everything will be taken care of.”

This behavioral science research program is not the federal government’s first. The Behavioral Sciences Unit was launched in 2015 and is now focusing on the response to COVID-19.

Changing consumer behavior has been flagged by the United Nations Environment Program (UNEP) as an important way to tackle climate change, as some estimates predict that two to three billion people will join the ranks. of middle-class consumers by 2050. UNEP has said every nine months the world’s population is consuming more natural resources than what could be produced sustainably in a year, and changing consumption patterns is crucial for sustainable life on Earth.

“Achieving this goal requires decoupling economic growth and human well-being from the unsustainable use of natural resources,” a 2017 UNEP report read.

UNEP said effective strategies for encouraging better choices are to make the greener choice the default choice. Taking the example of organ donation, the shift from the opt-in to the opt-out for donors has radically transformed organ donation rates, offering possible lessons for climate change. Germany, for example, has customers using renewable energy by default, forcing people to switch to fossil fuels, which has led to increased use of green electricity.

Hardisty said behavioral science research offers probable options on what might work to encourage behavior change, but it’s difficult to predict with absolute certainty. Researchers tend to trumpet what works, not what doesn’t, he said. Still, green nudges that change buying habits, like emissions labeling on food, could help.

“Different foods that you eat have different climate impacts, and so there is (some research) that shows whether you’ve created climate labels correctly…

Another way to change behavior to encourage greener choices can be guilt. Since Halifax launched a clear plastic garbage bag strategy, where neighbors could hypothetically see other people’s trash, the city has reported significantly higher recycling rates. Likewise, research found that Calgary residents were more likely to leave clippings on their lawns rather than putting them in garbage bags after brochures were distributed with messages such as “Your neighbors want it. let you ride a grass bike ”.

ECCC and NRCan have confirmed that the results of their behavioral science research will be made public.

Two of the five research fellows have already started work, and more are expected to be hired in the coming months. Wook Yang, a doctoral candidate at the University of Toronto, works in the energy efficiency program at NRCan, while Katie Harper, a recent doctoral graduate from Ryerson / X University, works in the ECCC mandate.

According to a memorandum of understanding, the program is expected to run until 2024, although it is currently only funded for that fiscal year, meaning parties will reassess its future in March. The estimated cost for the next two years is approximately $ 1.5 million.

The research program is a three-pronged approach involving data collection, online studies and field experiments. The research unit “will also deal with mandate letter commitments,” according to the note. These letters now include far-reaching pledges such as building climate-resilient infrastructure, capping emissions from the oil and gas sector, achieving a 100% net electricity grid by 2035, providing electricity. international climate finance, development of a whole-of-government emergency preparedness strategy. and requiring federally regulated institutions to develop and disclose climate risks and net zero plans.

John Woodside, Local Journalism Initiative reporter, National Observer of Canada

About Leah Albert

Check Also

Vehicle-integrated photovoltaics for low-speed electric vehicles – pv magazine International

Canadian startup Capsolar says its flexible solar modules can be adapted to any type of …