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Harnessing Behaviour Change For Urban Climate Action

Cities can revolutionize food, transport, and energy systems when local governments empower citizens to adopt more sustainable behavior. This guide builds on WWF’s Save Nature Please framework, harnessing its principles and learning tools. It suggests science-based behavior interventions that local governments can use to accelerate the transition to low-carbon, nature-positive and resilient cities, guiding city leaders to: 

  • Develop Behavior Change Interventions – including scoping the problem and goal, knowing your audience, creating a vision, increasing participation, and being aware of key barriers. 
  • Deliver Interventions – making them easy, attractive, social and timely. 
  • Measure and Scale Interventions – including the importance of piloting, learning, evaluating and reviewing a checklist for success. 

Even if a local government invests in new bike lanes or bus routes, then what? What does it take for urban residents to use them? Local governments must not only provide sustainable infrastructure but encourage citizens to engage with it.  
Though altering behaviour is not easy, behavioural science can help us understand citizen’s choices and encourage them to make more sustainable ones. Policy makers can start by defining a target group, and once the group’s motivations are understood, they can then choose certain mechanisms, or levers, to tackle specific behaviours. There are six levers lifted in this guide, as defined by RARE: Center for Behavior and Environment.  

The first lever is to inform, providing information about a desired behaviour, why it matters, and how to do it. The second is to create social influence, making the chosen behaviour the perceived norm, and engaging in it easily observable. Next, appeal to emotions which focuses on leveraging pride, joy, hope, or curiosity, and using pictures, names, or local evidence to show community benefits. The fourth lever is to create incentive, shifting the perceived costs and benefits, making the targeted action easy and rewarding, while also making the alternative harder. Fifth, change choice architecture: this includes how we frame a choice. And finally, regulation, mandating or prohibiting a behaviour through rules and policies.  

Want to know more? Check out WWF’s guide for Harnessing Behavior Change for Urban Climate Action – A Guide for Local Policy Makers.