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Published June 1, 2019

1.5-degree lifestyles

How can we reduce our carbon footprint to meet ambitious climate targets? - a summary

The new international report 1.5-degree lifestyles – How can we reduce our carbon footprint to meet ambitious climate targets? by Sitra and its partners suggests clear targets for the reduction of lifestyle carbon footprints and a range of options for achieving those targets. The change required is radical: current estimated lifestyle carbon footprints should decrease by up to 93 per cent by 2050.

The carbon footprint of households and individuals – what we eat, how we live, how we get around and the goods and services we use – provides a basis for reducing emissions. Changing our lifestyles could have a visible and rapid impact on the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions.

The report proposes targets and options in terms of lifestyles for limiting global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius. So far, efforts to address climate change from a comprehensive lifestyles perspective have largely been lacking, both in scientific literature and government policies. The related literature tends to focus on footprints of specific products, organisations, cities or countries, but rarely on lifestyle footprints. This has weakened efforts to resolve the climate crisis. Basing the discourse on solutions to climate change mainly on technologies that are not yet scalable would mean a risky decision for our future society.

This study proposes that we need to aim for per-person consumption-based targets of 2.5 (tCO2e) in 2030, 1.4 by 2040 and 0.7 by 2050. These targets are in line with the 1.5 °C aspirational target of the Paris Agreement.

FIGURE 3. LIFESTYLE CARBON FOOTPRINT BUDGET COMPARABLE WITH 1.5 °C TARGET Note: Global total emission budget was calculated as a mean of the “1.5D(a)” scenario from Ranger et al. (2012) and “1.5D(b)” and “1.5D(c)” scenarios from van Vuuren et al. (2018) for 1.5D. The emission budget was divided by population projections from the United Nations (2017) and multiplied by the household footprint share estimated by Hertwich and Peters (2009) to estimate lifestyle carbon footprint budget.

The results of the study highlight the huge gaps between the current per capita footprints and the targets for limiting global warming to 1.5 degrees. Estimates of current annual average lifestyle carbon footprints per person of the countries studied as of 2017 were: Finland: 10.4 (tCO2e); Japan: 7.6; China: 4.2; Brazil: 2.8; and India: 2.0.

FIGURE 5. CARBON FOOTPRINT AND ITS BREAKDOWN BETWEEN CONSUMPTION DOMAINS AND GLOBALLY UNIFIED TARGETS FOR THE LIFESTYLE CARBON FOOTPRINTS Note: Average lifestyle carbon footprint of country estimated as of 2017. The lower and upper limits of horizontal lines indicate 1.5D (1.5 °C without/ less use of CCS) and 2S (2 °C with CCS) targets, respectively.

Hotspots of lifestyle carbon footprints

A closer examination of lifestyle carbon footprints based on physical consumption units revealed several hotspots, those being meat and dairy consumption, fossil fuel-based energy, car use and air travel. The three domains these footprints occur in – nutrition, housing and mobility – tend to have the largest impact, approximately 75% of our total lifestyle carbon footprint.

FIGURE 6. A COMPARISON OF THE SHARE OF CARBON FOOTPRINTS AND PHYSICAL CONSUMPTION (NUTRITION) Note: Average lifestyle carbon footprints and physical amount of consumption estimated as of 2017. Inner circles represent the share of physical amount of consumption. Outer circles indicate the share of carbon footprints.

Some of the hotspots such as car use and meat consumption are common among all case countries, while others are country-specific, such as dairy consumption in Finland and fossil fuel-based electricity in Japan. Therefore, we need to consider local contexts and tailor-made solutions.The share of nutrition in the average lifestyle carbon footprint is 17 per cent in Finland and 18 per cent in Japan. Meat consumption is the largest contributor to a person’s carbon footprint in Finland and Japan. In Finland, consumption of dairy products, mostly cheese and milk, is causing another third of the nutrition-related footprint.

FIGURE 8. A COMPARISON OF THE SHARE OF CARBON FOOTPRINTS AND PHYSICAL CONSUMPTION IN FINLAND AND JAPAN (HOUSING) Note: Average lifestyle carbon footprints and physical amount of consumption estimated as of 2017. Inner circles represent the share of physical amount of consumption. Outer circles indicate the share of carbon footprints.

FIGURE 9. A COMPARISON OF CARBON FOOTPRINTS AND THEIR BREAKDOWN (HOUSING ENERGY) Note: Coloured rectangles indicate the average lifestyle carbon footprints of each component. Width, height and size of the area represent the physical amount of consumption, carbon intensity and carbon footprints respectively. Black dotted rectangles show the average intensity and total physical consumption as of 2017. Red rectangles show the 1.5-degree target by 2030 and blue dotted rectangles the 2050 target. The horizontal to vertical ratios are only indicative – if amounts cannot be reduced, intensity needs to be reduced instead.

FIGURE 10. A COMPARISON OF THE SHARE OF CARBON FOOTPRINTS AND PHYSICAL CONSUMPTION IN FINLAND AND JAPAN (MOBILITY) Note: Average lifestyle carbon footprints and physical amount of consumption estimated as of 2017. Inner circles represent the share of physical amount of consumption. Outer circles indicate the share of carbon footprints.

FIGURE 11. A COMPARISON OF CARBON FOOTPRINTS AND THEIR BREAKDOWN (MOBILITY) Note: Coloured rectangles indicate the average lifestyle carbon footprints of each component. Width, height and size of the area represent the physical amount of consumption, carbon intensity and carbon footprints, respectively. Black dotted rectangles show the average intensity and total physical consumption as of 2017. Red dotted rectangles show the 1.5-degree target by 2030 and blue dotted rectangles the 2050 target. The horizontal and vertical ratios of the red and blue dotted rectangles are indicative only. If amounts cannot be reduced, intensity needs to be reduced instead.

Different conditions in different countries are reflected in the housing domain as a differing energy demand. Finns use a lot of indoor heating as a result of the large average living space and long winters. In Japan, energy demand is lower, but it has higher average carbon intensity because of the relatively high share of fossil fuel-based energy sources. Housing energy-related carbon footprints are much lower in developing countries because of lower heating demand and smaller average living spaces, although grid electricity is still largely fossil fuel-based in China and India. Finland and Japan need to reduce current energy-related footprints by almost 70 and over 90 per cent respectively to reach the 2030 target. China exceeds but Brazil and India are currently within the 2030 target.The two developed countries, Finland and Japan, have similar housing-related carbon footprints of approximately 2,400 to 2,500 kgCO2e/capita. These countries have similarly sized average living spaces of around 40 m2. However, there are big differences in direct energy use. Finns use a lot of indoor heating as a result of long winters. In Japan, energy demand is lower but is has higher carbon intensity because of the relatively high share of fossil fuel-based energy sources.The two developed countries, Finland and Japan, have similar housing-related carbon footprints of approximately 2,400 to 2,500 kgCO2e/capita. These countries have similarly sized average living spaces of around 40 m2. However, there are big differences in direct energy use. Finns use a lot of indoor heating as a result of long winters. In Japan, energy demand is lower but is has higher carbon intensity because of the relatively high share of fossil fuel-based energy sources.

Low-carbon lifestyle options

The options with large emission reduction potential as revealed by the study include: car-free private travel and commuting; electric and hybrid cars; vehicle fuel-efficiency improvement; ride sharing; living nearer workplaces and in smaller living spaces; renewable grid electricity and off-grid energy; heat pumps; and vegetarian/vegan diets and substituting dairy products and red meat.

Lifestyles could greatly contribute to achieving the 1.5-degree target for 2030 on the basis of already existing options. This would require ambitious levels of adoption in Finland and Japan, such as 75% for the 27 options studied for both of the countries.

FIGURE 13. A COMPARISON OF THE ESTIMATED PER CAPITA CARBON FOOTPRINT REDUCTION IMPACTS OF LOWCARBON LIFESTYLE OPTIONS IN FINLAND Note: Estimated by authors based on the assumptions in Annex F of the technical report (IGES et al. 2019). The sum of individual reduction impacts is not equal to the aggregated impacts in Tables 3 and 4 because of overlaps and synergies between options.

FIGURE 14. A COMPARISON OF THE ESTIMATED PER CAPITA CARBON FOOTPRINT REDUCTION IMPACTS OF LOWCARBON LIFESTYLE OPTIONS IN JAPAN Note: Estimated by authors based on the assumptions in Annex F of the technical report (IGES et al. 2019). The sum of individual reduction impacts is not equal to the aggregated impacts in Tables 3 and 4 because of overlaps and synergies between options.

If these options are fully implemented, they could reduce the carbon footprint of each domain by a few hundred kilograms to over a tonne annually. The impacts we can expect vary according to what extent we adopt the options.

How to achieve 1.5-degrees lifestyles and how to act

This report represents one of the first of its kind in terms of proposing per capita lifestyle carbon footprint targets and assessing the gaps and solutions based on the physical amount of consumption across consumption domains. Although any action by individuals is relevant, governments and companies must support the transition towards low-carbon lifestyles on a large scale.

Interactive tools such as the 1.5-degree lifestyle puzzle presented by the report would help both household and political decision-makers, government and businesses to identify bottlenecks and develop solutions towards low-carbon lifestyles. The identified options can be tested in real households, neighbourhoods and communities, with government and private-sector support to gauge the feasibility and acceptability of all solutions.

This report represents one of the first of its kind in terms of proposing per capita lifestyle carbon footprint targets and assessing the gaps and solutions based on the physical amount of consumption across consumption domains. Although any action by individuals is relevant, governments and companies must support the transition towards low-carbon lifestyles on a large scale.

Interactive tools such as the 1.5-degree lifestyle puzzle presented by the report would help both household and political decision-makers, government and businesses to identify bottlenecks and develop solutions towards low-carbon lifestyles. The identified options can be tested in real households, neighbourhoods and communities, with government and private-sector support to gauge the feasibility and acceptability of all solutions.

Publication details

Title

1.5-degree lifestyles

Subtitle

How can we reduce our carbon footprint to meet ambitious climate targets? - a summary

Authors

Michael Lettenmeier, Lewis Akenji, Viivi Toivio, Ryu Koide and Aryanie Amellina

Place of publication

Helsinki

Year of publication

2019

Publisher

Sitra

Subject

consumption, lifestyle, carbon footprint, iclimate change, habits, change, climate targets

Series

Sitra studies

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