The stalemate characterising 23 years of COP meetings suggests that we will not solve the tremendous climate challenges at using grand global summits – and there’s little reason to hope COP24 in Katowice will be any different. In reality, the climate challenge will first and foremost have to be solved in the private homes of the many.

Our planet and the survival of mankind is undoubtedly the hottest topic at today’s international conferences. Over the coming fortnight, the drastically deteriorating condition of the climate is the central theme at the UN’s 24th COP meeting in Katowice, Poland. At this annual event, climate experts and policy-makers from all over the world gather to discuss political commitment, showcase climate change solutions and anticipate climate scenarios. This is just the latest of a host of global climate conferences taking place this autumn – in California, New York, Copenhagen and more.

Paradoxically, while the number of global climate conferences grows, the matter at hand continues to deteriorate. COP24 is taking place in the shadow of the most dire climate reports we have seen so far. Climate change will completely alter the living conditions of mankind – and we are still far from shared, efficient and enduring solutions.

For 24 years, politicians and experts have read the warnings of the reports, negotiated, and attempted to reach an agreement. For 24 years they have failed to catch up with climate change. This redundancy gives salience to the powerlessness of the global elite. But it also raises the question of whether we are just manifesting Albert Einstein’s definition of insanity; doing the same thing over and over again, and expecting a different result.

It would not be fair to portray the COP conferences as foolish, irrelevant or insane. As global unifying organs they put climate change on the agenda and raise awareness. But still, one could question if it is time for a new approach. According to the devastating warnings from scientists, we have already surpassed the tipping points of the 1.5°C global temperature target and most likely also the 2°C target. Even though theory still grants us a very small chance to reach this target, we will not act on it in this current state of political inertia.

Instead, we have to seriously accept a new scenario of global temperature increases of 3-4°C by the end of this century. A scenario that will entail immense challenges that today’s global leaders daren’t even consider. In other words, a whole new climate reality is already closing in, and none of us – not even experts or politicians – are willing or able to face it.

The impending consumer explosion

In light of this new climate reality, we have to focus our attention on the climate battles we can actually hope to win. And these are not the battles taking place around the grand climate summit table.

We need to focus our attention towards the homes of the many and try to win the battle of the consumer. We have to push for a revolution in consumer behaviour and mindset.

Just a few numbers should suffice to illustrate the potential of changing the way we live and consume. We will be roughly one billion more people by 2030 and another billion on top of that in 2050. If the generations to come expect the same living conditions as today’s industrialized middle classes, it would be a ticking bomb in the battle to stave off climate change – it will dramatically increase consumer demand in sectors like food, water, energy, clothing, and transport, with disastrous consequences for the climate.

For example, reports show that the global consumption of food will increase between 60-100% by 2050. The demand for meat and fish will increase by almost 80% in Asia. Global water consumption in the private sector and households is set to increase by 400% and 140% respectively. The end result will be a situation in 2050 in which three billion people will live in territories with frequent lethal droughts, permanent water scarcity, and lack of vital tap water. At the same time, the resource consumption of the fashion industry is projected to double, and the amount of cars on the streets and kilometers by flight will also double before 2040.

The dinner table is the power centre

Earth Overshoot Day’ marks the date when humanity has used more resources than the planet can regenerate within a given year. That date fell on August 1st this year. In all of 2018, we are using the resources of 1.7 Earths as a direct consequence of overconsumption. Projections reveal that Earth Overshoot Day can be expected to fall even earlier the coming years, as a result of the growing gap between political intentions and global consumer behavior.

If the international community does not succeed in bringing excessive consumption under control, a 4°C temperature increase may suddenly seem like the pleasant scenario.

But how will politicians and experts unravel this seemingly Gordian knot? History has shown that legislation on consumer habits and behavioural patterns is a risky and often costly affair. The violent protests in Paris taking place as we speak, in response to President Macron’s suggested fossil fuel tariffs, is a case in point.

Nonetheless, solutions to climate change have to be found in the homes of the many. It is around the dinner table where the critical decisions about the future of the planet will be made. If an issue cannot be discussed around the dinner table, it will unlikely gain political traction. Therefore, the dinner table is the decisive locus in terms of broad behavioural change.

The question remains whether this crucial reality is discussed seriously in the higher circles of the global elites, at the UN, at COP conferences and other international climate summits. While we wait for an answer, we are running out of time.

A many-sided climate strategy

There is no doubt that legislation is an important stepping stone towards climate-proof consumer behavior. But legislation cannot be the single political lifebuoy. Experience shows that behavioral change requires a many-sided strategy: First, solving the consumer challenge should start with a national vision and ambition – it’s a matter of shaping a common and attractive identity around sustainable living. Second, engaging campaigns ought to be carried out to attain broad support. Third, strong economic incentives are crucial to support behavioral change – this is where legislation becomes highly relevant. Fourth, campaigns should include widely respected and acknowledged personalities whom everyday people can identify with. Fifth and final, as with all political initiatives, the litmus test must be that they are able to create discussions around the dinner table.

Reaching climate goals is not only a matter of personal choice – it is a question of political choice too. Luckily, we have already accepted that fact and successfully made progress in other spheres, among these traffic and health security. Now we need to pull the same political levers regarding climate change.

Until the new climate reality becomes the main topic around the dinner tables, real change is unlikely.

The politicians in Poland must leave their fear of the masses, and lead the way towards new global climate friendly consumer paths. And consumers throughout the globe must begin to think about the living conditions not only for themselves, but for their children and grandchildren.

Erik Rasmussen is founder and Executive Chairman of Sustainia. From 1989 to December 2016 Erik held the position as founder and CEO of the house of innovation, Monday Morning. Erik has been elected one of the world’s 100 most influential journalists by World Economic Forum, has been a member of the International Media Council, and was recently awarded the prestigious Danish Publishing Prize for his influence on a generation of Danish journalists.