Study Suggests a New Consumption-Based Climate Target

As per the new research report commissioned by the Swedish Parliament, several measures have to be taken by Sweden in order to get emission levels in line with the Paris Agreement.

Study Suggests a New Consumption-Based Climate Target.

The figure shows the emission levels and reduction potentials for different scenarios in 2050 compared to 2019 for emissions related to transportation, food, buildings, and infrastructure. Current trends and policies show the results for Swedish consumption-based emissions if other countries develop in line with current climate policy. Global climate transition shows results for Swedish consumption-based emissions if other countries develop in line with the goals of the Paris Agreement. Image Credit: Chalmers University of Technology.

Those measures include a ban on fossil fuels, extensive technological developments, fewer flights, less construction, fewer car journeys and lower levels of beef and dairy consumption.

On April 7th, 2022, the Swedish Cross-Party Committee on Environmental Objectives recommended a new consumption-based climate target, that is considered a complement to the present territorial climate targets.

As a foundation for this, a group of Swedish scientists, from organizations inclusive of the Chalmers University of Technology, have produced an extensive report analyzing how consumption patterns need to alter for Sweden to achieve emission levels in accordance with the Paris Agreement’s aim of keeping the global temperature increase well below 2 °C.

The scientists have reached a conclusion that while wide technological developments are considered to be necessary, there must also be a change in the consumption habits. This can be done just by integrating these two methods that stand a chance of obtaining the goals of the Paris Agreement.

The assumption in the calculations is that the leftover future emissions are distributed across the world evenly per person.

If we are to achieve really low emission levels, we need to both invest heavily in new climate-smart technologies, as well as make significant changes to our behavior when it comes to the goods and services with the highest carbon footprints.

Jörgen Larsson, Associate Professor, Sustainable Consumption, Chalmers University of Technology

Larsson is also the project manager for the report.

Without Behavioral Changes, Emissions will Remain High

The report “Consumption-based scenarios for Sweden—a basis for discussing new climate targets” is based on analyses of various scenarios and displays that if we depend only on technological developments—measures like generating fossil-free steel, removing fossil-fuel vehicles and fossil-free commercial fertilizer—emissions will still be very high.

We will only see improvements in the outlook when such technological developments are integrated with considerable changes in behavior—especially if the changes are significant.

While integrated with less car travel, fewer flights, considerably reduced consumption of beef and dairy products, and radically decreased construction of roads and housing—for instance by transforming office blocks into residential buildings, emissions could fall by up to 90% by 2050, compared today’s levels.

This decrease in emissions relies on the assumption that the rest of the world also enacts climate change mitigation efforts to fulfill the goals of the Paris Agreement. This helps reduce the carbon footprints of imported goods.

The scenario with extensive behavioral changes is a theoretical thought experiment, which aims to show the lowest levels we could reach with the help of both technological and radical social changes and still live a modern life.

Johannes Morfeldt, Researcher, Division of Physical Resource Theory, Chalmers University of Technology

Analyses Based on Five Distinct Scenarios

The report, depending on Swedish conditions, describes scenarios with altering degrees of technological development and behavioral changes.

  • The Reference scenario anticipates behaviors and technology changing as per the current trends.
  • The Territorial climate target scenario—Sweden’s climate targets are obtained primarily mainly via technological changes.
  • Behavior and technology scenario—Besides the technological modifications happening in the earlier scenario, additional measures are implemented (both behavioral and technical) to decrease Swedish consumption impacts outside of Sweden’s borders as well.
  • Extensive behavior and technology scenario—broad reductions in driving, flying, consumption of beef and dairy products, as well as in the construction of new roads and housing.
  • Reference scenario with extensive behavior change—the same reductions in consumption as in the earlier scenario, but without the initiation of advanced technologies, both in Sweden and abroad.

More About the Research

This study describes a technique for scenario analysis based on bottom-up simulations of pathways for consumption sectors with the biggest climate impact—passenger car travel, construction and housing, air travel, and food.

The study expands early research by examining the impact of lifestyle and technological changes at the national level on consumption-based emissions. The analysis combines methods developed in an individual sectoral study and positions them in a prospective lifecycle assessment framework.

For two background scenarios, assumptions are being harmonized — a present trends and policies scenario and a global climate transition scenario in accordance with the Paris Agreement’s goals. This is to demonstrate the powerful impact of technological developments on the rest of the world while evaluating consumption-based emissions (indicated by a range).

The report has been made on behalf of the Swedish Cross-Party Committee on Environmental Objectives, whose final report was presented on April 7th, 2022.

Journal Reference:

Larsson, J., et al. (2022) Consumption-based Scenarios for Sweden - a basis for discussing new climate targets.


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