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Knowledge combined with the capacity for people to act and a built-environment that facilitates this capacity can produce behaviour change



The proliferation of knowledge on climate change from scientific institutions like the IPCC, universities and other scientific institutions have failed to galvanise global public action. Instead, we have seen a decline in public belief in climate change and increased public distrust in scientific institutions.

Studies show that other variables like political orientation, ideology, religion, etc, moderate the effects of education and information processing. More knowledge, therefore, has often failed to translate into better understanding of risks and concomitant change in behaviour. But the internalised political ideologies, values and belief systems of an individual are difficult to change.

This proposal argues that instead of trying to change beliefs and ideologies, focus should be on creating a built-environment that is conducive for people to take sustainable action at an individual level, whether or not they believe in climate change.

People fundamentally care about their personal health and well being. So framing climate action as an issue that is close to home; making it a matter of individuals performing their duty of care to their children and loved ones, creates greater compulsion for people to act and change their behaviour. Current framings that make climate action a global public problem that requires individual private action have been counter productive.

Finally, give people the capacity to act by providing them useful information when making consumer choices (e.g. eco-labelling of products); provide them the infrastructure to make low-choices in transport, food and other types of consumption; and support sustainable production (e.g. knowledge and technological support to farmers for sustainable farming practices and link them to markets).


Category of the action

Changing public perceptions on climate change

What actions do you propose?

  1. Build cities in a way that reduces the need for energy intensive infrastructure and private travel. The book "Walkable Cities" provides workable examples and proposals for how cities can be modified to make walking and cycling not only preferable but enjoyable.
  2. Biophilic cities are a great way to incorporate nature and its ecological services into urban design. There are already examples of biophilic cities across the world - from Birmingham, Milwaukee to Singapore. These examples can be capitalised on, further improved, adapted to local needs and expanded globally.
  3. For large cities, city planners can explore ways to encourage cycling instead of driving by increasing cycling lane networks, providing bike racks on trains and buses; and building park connectors throughout the city to make cycling a relaxing and meditative activity at the start and end of the day. They can also transform urban space for car parking into bike parking spaces instead.
  4. For cities with large urban sprawls, optimal use of rail infrastructure can be enhanced by higher frequency at peak hours combined with wide networks of bicycle lanes connecting suburbs to train stations and have bike-friendly carriages to encourage home-to-office cycling .
  5. To change consumer choices, provide them with the necessary information. Eco-labeling of products is highly effective in differentiating goods and services that are produced sustainably. But labels need to be communicated in a clear and concise manner.
  6. Retailers can help market eco-labeled products more aggressively. Large supermarkets can support suppliers that meet environmental standards through product placement strategies, "eco-specials" where eco-labeled goods go on offer to create awareness and visibility, green consumer memberships/clubs, etc.
  7. Create demand by enabling competitive pricing of goods and services by sustainable producers. Governments can create various incentives for companies to switch to ecologically responsible suppliers, operators, etc. at each stage of the supply chain of a product.
  8. Create supply by providing necessary knowledge and technologies to suppliers and operators that will enable them to reduce emissions and other waste products. This is where collaboration between universities, innovation centers and producers need to be improved.
  9. Technology fairs without the inhibitive registration costs can greatly enhance collaborations between research and industry, targeted at sustainable production.
  10. Agriculture fairs in particular can bring farmers and researchers in environmental science and social ecology together to exchange knowledge and produce more sustainable farming systems while at the same time, enhancing research.
  11. Support local farmers markets to reduce emissions from food transportation.
  12. Re-create abandoned urban spaces into collective spaces where residents of the community can start urban vegetable/herb gardens, and where startup social enterprises can do business.

Who will take these actions?

Relevant stake holders: For every issue the scale and set of relevant stakeholders will be different. So identifying the relevant parties from the affected public, business community, industry, local government agencies, etc. is important. Too many cooks can spoil the broth so this first stage is crucial in keeping discussions focused.

Local governments: While national governments are crucial, local governments are the ones closer to the ground and with better knowledge of local contexts, dynamics and needs. Local governments therefore are crucial in providing the institutional support and political will for change at the local level. They need to set environmental standards, but give businesses the information and tools to abide by them.

Chambers of commerce: business associations already have a wide network of business members that range from small to medium to large enterprises that can benefit significantly from local initiatives. These associations play a crucial role in bringing the right businesses, linking companies up with researchers, certification agencies, etc.

Universities: Universities are the hubs of innovation and international knowledge flows. They need to consider how their international research can contribute to the needs of the communities around them. Universities should also encourage active student participation in communities, organising green festivals, green fairs and community events that raise awareness but also get communities involved.

Local councils: organising community events that frame sustainable living in more personal terms of family, health and well-being so that taking climate action becomes not about taking a political side, but making a personal choice.

Architects: particularly those that specialise in biophilic design, should collaborate more with local governments to implement the change in urban design paradigms.

Where will these actions be taken?

Cities contribute to 70% of global emissions. These actions are thus targeted at any industrialised, developed and developing country with large to regional cities. In particular, densely populated cities with large urban sprawls in both developed countries (e.g. New York, London, Paris) and developing countries (e.g. Manila, New Delhi, Mumbai, Shanghai) can serve as good case studies.

How much will emissions be reduced or sequestered vs. business as usual levels?

Large reductions can been achieved not just in emissions reduction but other forms of environmental pollution. Each initiative will need to come with an associated monitoring component to adequately track emissions and pollution reduction.

What are other key benefits?

It brings communities together and creates opportunities for building community spirit and neighbourly collegiality. This is often associated with lower crime rates and lower risks to individual safety.

It promotes better health. When people are healthier, it reduces strain on healthcare services as well as personal expenditure on doctors and medicine.

Healthy people are also more productive people.

It improves overall sense of well-being, which reduces other stresses of living in a densely populated urban space.

It creates business opportunities.

It maximises funding provided to universities to do research by extending the audience and application of the research that is already being done.

What are the proposal’s costs?

The costs will vary according to the country/city in which the proposal is being implemented, as well as the type of activity being implemented.

In essence, only seed funding is needed to conduct a pilot project, preferably one in a major city in the developed world, and one in the developing world and to analyse the different outcomes. From the pilot a model can be developed to stipulate some guiding principles for implementation and best practices that government agencies in other countries and industries in other sectors can adopt and modify.

Based on previous research experience, funding of US$30,000 per pilot study is sufficient.

Time line

5-15 years

Key stake holders start to emerge.

The discourse shifts from climate action to personal action for health, well-being and family.

City-planners collaborate with universities to modify and/or create the way cities are designed to reduce energy consumption and increase non-emitting modes of transport.

Urban spaces are ear-marked by the local government for farmer’s markets, local enterprise and collective urban gardens.

Government place environmental standards on industry but at the same time link them up with certification agencies, suppliers and operators with sustainable certification.

Farmers collaborate with universities to slowly phase out the use petrol-chemical fertilisers and industrial farming.

Farmers collaborate with local governments to get better access to local markets.

Farmers in developing countries take advantage of technologies to get better access to both domestic and international markets.

15-50 years

Communities start to be more engaged and more interested about options for more sustainable products.

It become the natural and rational choice to buy eco-labeled goods and services, and to minimise personal transportation.

New technologies emerge and get incorporated into the model to further enhance sustainable production and make sustainable good and services cheaper to consumers.

50-100 years

The model would have produced smarter cities that are not only built with energy-efficient technologies and infrastructures, but also built in a way that makes low-emissions living the natural way of life.

Related proposals

There could be some synergies with the proposal for measuring personal carbon footprint.


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