IGES and Partners Release 1.5-Degree Lifestyles Report

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6 March 2019

If the world is to keep climate change at manageable levels before the middle of the century,changes in lifestyles are not only inevitable, but would need to be radical, and start immediately. Considering current consumption levels, citizens in many developed countries would have to cut their lifestyle carbon footprints by about 80-90% or more, and some in developing countries by about 30-80% within the next 30 years. This is one of the key messages coming from the report “1.5-Degree Lifestyles: Targets and options for reducing lifestyle carbon footprints,” just launched by a group of experts from an international consortium of research and policy institutes.

The Institute for Global Environmental Strategies (IGES), Aalto University, D-mat, the Finnish Innovation Fund Sitra, and the KR Foundation, at the World Resources Forum (WRF), today announced the launch of a report which analyses the carbon footprints of household lifestyles and how changes can contribute to meeting the ambitious 1.5-degree aspirational target envisaged by the Paris Agreement on climate change. Findings in the publication make it clear that changes in consumption patterns and dominant lifestyles are a critical and integral part of the solutions package for addressing climate change. It analyses scientific emission scenarios and case studies from FinlandJapanChinaBrazil, and India, and proposes long-term targets for individuals’ lifestyle carbon footprints by 2030-2050, as well as low-carbon options that citizens and society can adopt.

The report provides a unique analysis of potential implications of the Paris Agreement from a lifestyle perspective, whereas most existing studies predominantly focus on production- and technology-based solutions. The publication establishes the first global per-capita lifestyle carbon footprint targets for 2030 to 2050 with explicit linkages to the 1.5-degree target. It also proposes an indicator of “lifestyle carbon footprint,” a consumption-based greenhouse gas accounting used for establishing targets, examining current status, and identifying solutions. Its comprehensive series of analyses focus on the climate impacts of household lifestyles and can be further expanded to countries beyond the selected case studies.

“With this report, we can no longer wait for another ten or twenty years to take action,” said Professor Kazuhiko Takeuchi, President of IGES. “Policymakers and businesses should recognise the urgency and actively support citizens in realising low-carbon lifestyles, looking ahead to a decarbonised society by 2050.”

Bas de Leeuw, Managing Director of the World Resources Forum and Member of the Club of Rome welcomed the report and called it an important contribution to the newly released Club of Rome “Climate Emergency Plan” that sets out 10 priority actions for all sectors and governments. “With children and students taking to the streets and populists trying to derail the debate, this report is very timely,” Bas de Leeuw said of the 1.5-Degree Lifestyles report. He added that, “The report is crystal clear in its analysis and solid in its conclusions. Climate change and resources management are linked, you can’t solve the one without addressing the other. Consumers will indeed need to change their lifestyles, but they are not alone. Much of the reduced impact of their lifestyles needs to come from smarter and more resource efficient products and services.”

Michael Lettenmeier, one of the authors of the report from Aalto University, commented that “while doing this research we were surprised to note what a small role lifestyles had played in most existing scenarios on greenhouse gas emissions. Lifestyles can and must contribute to climate change mitigation, but not only households must act. Governments and businesses have to facilitate lifestyle changes by providing infrastructure, products and services that enable households to live more sustainably. These changes have to be initiated now because lifestyle carbon footprints have to drop far below half in the course of one decade in order to keep global warming within 1.5 degree.”

The report is available at: ggkp.org/resource/15-degree-lifestyles-targets-and-options-reducing-lifestyle-carbon-footprints

Key findings of the report include:

  • 3-2-1 tonnes per person by 2030-2040-2050. Globally, citizens and society need to aim for per-person consumption-based greenhouse gas emissions targets of 2.5 (tCO2e) in 2030, 1.4 by 2040, and 0.7 by 2050 in order to keep global temperature rise to within 1.5 degrees. The gap analysis reveals that footprints in the developed countries studied (Finland and Japan) must be reduced by 80-93% by 2050, assuming that actions for a 58-76% reduction, necessary to achieve the 2030 target, start immediately. Even for the developing countries studied (China, Brazil, and India), a 23-84% reduction, depending on the country and the scenario, would be required by 2050.
  • What we eat, how we live and move. Nutrition, housing, and mobility have the largest impact on climate change, accounting for approximately 75% of lifestyle carbon footprints. Hotspots include meat and dairy consumption, fossil-fuel based energy, car use, and air travel.
  • Low-carbon lifestyles. Options with large emission reduction potentials include: car-free travel and commuting, ride sharing, living closer to workplaces and in smaller living spaces; renewable grid electricity and off-grid energy, heat pumps for temperature control; and vegetarian-vegan diets, and substituting dairy products and red meat with plant-based options. If these options are fully adopted, each of them could reduce per-capita footprint by several hundred kg to over a tonne annually.
  • The limits of technology. The various reduction scenarios studied indicate that most of the existing emission scenarios assume extensive use of negative emission technologies and production-side efficiency improvement. Only a few scenarios for the 1.5-degree target have focused on lifestyle changes and demand-side actions. However, the actual availability, feasibility, and costs of technologies are uncertain, and thus solely relying on their assumed extensive and broad-ranging roll-out is a risky societal decision.

Main messages:

  • The required levels of emission reductions, exceeding 80-90% based on current lifestyle carbon footprints, thus imply a radical rethink of sustainability governance and the need for new business models to shift the paradigms on which we base infrastructure, economies, and consumer lifestyles. Reductions will be necessary not only for developed countries; several developing countries will also need to reduce average per capita footprints from current levels, implying the importance of long-term strategic planning and actions to achieve both the 1.5-degree target and quality of life for citizens.
  • A variety of low-carbon lifestyle options is becoming available, yet these options should be strategically developed, tested, and further promoted. The three key approaches of low-carbon lifestyles highlighted in the report, absolute reduction, modal shift, and efficiency improvement, are all indispensable parts of the solutions. In particular, shifting consumption modes from high-carbon to low-carbon and reducing the physical amount of consumption while keeping quality of life should be seen as an integral part of solutions to climate change, complementing technology-based solutions.
  • Citizens’ lifestyles are “locked-in” by the existing infrastructure and product availability, and the shift in lifestyles is not the sole responsibility of consumers and their individual choices. All stakeholders, including national and local governments and businesses, need to urgently act to develop and provide viable and attractive solutions, including low-carbon products and services and the design of infrastructure-supporting low-carbon solutions, in parallel with facilitating behaviour changes among citizens.
Brazil, China, Finland, India, Japan