Individual action: what you can do about climate change

Background - 1 July, 2016
Climate change is a global problem, but there's a lot you can do about it in your daily life. Choose your own set of solutions to suit your lifestyle. You'll save energy and money, and make your life and home more healthy, convenient and comfortable. Saving energy gets easier all the time thanks to new apps, devices and transport solutions.

Follow these simple, practical steps — and remember, small acts summed up around the world make a big difference. Together we can make the leap to 100 percent clean, safe renewable energy future we all want!

Step 1: Save Energy — and money!

  • Switch off and unplug appliances when not in use. TVs, DVD players and computers use electricity even on standby, so remember to unplug them, and cell phone chargers too. Switching off and monitoring is becoming even easier with home automation systems. New apps and devices, increasingly enabled by the Internet, are making it cheaper and simpler to have a "smart" home.

  • Use energy efficient lighting. LEDs (light emitting diodes), CFLs (compact fluorescent lamps) and halogen incandescents use up to 80 percent less energy and last as much as 25 times longer than traditional incandescent light bulbs. LEDs are the better (more efficient) option, but if you use CFLs be sure to dispose of them properly at the end of their life or if they break, because they contain small amounts of mercury.

  • Buy energy efficient appliances. Before buying, check how much power new appliances, furnaces, and water heaters will use. Remember, cheaper up-front purchases could cost more in electricity bills over time. To help you make energy-smart purchases, some countries have labelling and rating systems to let you compare the energy use of different products.     

  • Insulate, install efficient windows and doors, and plug leaks. Proper insulation and air sealing dramatically cut energy used to heat and cool homes. Double and triple-paned windows and energy-efficient doors save even more. Check for programs, rebates, incentives or tax credits that help you make these important changes and improve your comfort and quality of life!  

  • Install programmable thermostats. These devices bring easy energy savings by automatically adjusting your home’s temperature via a program you set. Worry no more about wasting energy while you’re at work or asleep! Some devices even learn your behaviour and adjust temperatures automatically.

Step 2: Power up your life with renewable energy

  • Go solar.  Use photovoltaics (PV) and solar thermal systems to power your home and heat water. Dramatic cost declines make solar more and more affordable. Add a system to your own sunny rooftop, join a community-shared solar project, or buy solar power from a neighbour. Feeling ambitious? Consider buying into a larger renewable energy project through a local energy cooperative.

  • Install a renewable heating and cooling system. The many cost-effective ways to renewably heat or cool your home include air source heat pumps, pellet stoves, ground source heat pumps and geothermal technologies.  Check for programs, subsidies, incentives or tax credits to lower your upfront costs.

  • Switch to green electricity. In your area you may have the option to choose your electricity supplier and buy renewable electricity directly from a power company.  For the greatest environmental benefits, choose suppliers that provide electricity from new, local renewable energy projects.

Step 3: Choose climate-friendly transportation

  • Walk or ride your bike. You'll save energy, improve your health and help the environment.  Electric bikes get you there even faster. But does your area lack what's needed to make walking or cycling safe? Don't give up! Instead support or start local initiatives to build walking paths, sidewalks, bike lanes and bike racks.

  • Car share or use public transport. More and more, cities and towns are providing car alternatives that save you money while reducing your emissions. Find what options are available in your area and choose what works best for you! And don’t forget to use public transport, if available.

  • Buy an electric vehicle. If you must own a car, consider an electric vehicle (EV).  Constant technology breakthroughs are increasing electric vehicles' affordability and the distance travelled with a single charge. Even if you plug into the grid to charge it, an electric vehicle's emissions are lower than conventional (internal combustion engine) vehicles.

  • Skip the airport. Energy-intensive air travel generates a lot of greenhouse gas emissions.  One San Francisco to Tokyo round-trip, for example, creates a warming effect equivalent to two tons of carbon dioxide per capita (the average American generates about 19 tons of carbon dioxide a year; the average Japanese, about 9).  If you must travel, try train, bus, carpool or even ferry all options with much lower emissions.

Step 4: Start an eco-food revolution

Industrial livestock agriculture — raising cows, pigs and chickens — generates as much greenhouse gas emissions as all cars, trucks and automobiles combined. A planet-wide shift toward low-meat diets would greatly reduce the costs of tackling climate change.

More information