Reducing emissions by changing how we act

Canada funded graphic
March 31st, 2023 | Halifax, Nova Scotia

The behavioural changes we’ll all need to make to achieve net-zero emissions are the focus of a new multi-year project being led by Net Zero Atlantic.

The initiative is the only Atlantic Canada-based project selected by the Net-Zero Advisory Body (NZAB) to receive support via the Environmental Damages Fund’s Climate Action and Awareness Fund, administered by Environment and Climate Change Canada. Entitled ‘Determining critical behavioural interventions for enabling an effective transition to net-zero emissions in Atlantic Canada’, the project is receiving $700,000 in funding.

“It's about figuring out how we can move the ‘people part’ of the equation forward,” says Net Zero Atlantic’s Kathleen Mifflin, who is coordinating the project. “We can't reach our net zero goals if we don't understand how to change human behaviour. That can include things like adopting new technologies, but it also can mean changing the way that you travel to your workplace, like switching to public transportation or active transportation, reducing energy consumption in your household, or maybe increasing your consumption of plant-based proteins.”

The project is focused on determining how best to influence the human-centered part of the transition to net-zero emissions, including how to motivate behavioural change that enables society to achieve emissions goals more quickly and cost effectively.

“The first part of our work is focused on understanding behaviours and the barriers to achieving the behaviours that we want to see happen,” says Kathleen. “The second part is about designing potential interventions and testing them through a mixed-methods research approach. And the third piece involves turning what we learn from the first and second parts of the project into scenarios we can analyze with Net Zero Atlantic’s open-source energy system model. Doing this will help us see how behavioural interventions can help to achieve emissions reduction goals and also how behavioural change, or lack thereof, can potentially be an inhibitor.”

To carry out this work, Net Zero Atlantic is collaborating with representatives of organizations including Pier Labs, as well as the Social Cognition Lab at Memorial University, the Purdy Crawford Chair in Aboriginal Business Studies at Cape Breton University, the School for Resource and Environmental Studies (SRES) at Dalhousie University and the Faculty of Management at the University of New Brunswick.

Of the anticipated outcomes of the project, scheduled to run from now until January 2025, Kathleen says, “We're committing to making 24 recommendations around ways to address barriers and take advantage of opportunities. We're going to test five behavioral interventions for implementation, and we're going to make 10 recommendations on how behavioural interventions could be used to speed up and reduce the cost of emissions reductions in Atlantic Canada.”