How to cut consumption-based emissions? Try a 1.5-degree lifestyle

The IPCC report in 2018 provided the world with a rigorous timeline for climate action: staying within the Paris Agreement´s 1.5-degree target is still possible but demands radical transformation by 2030. 

This transformation refers not only to the required energy transition but also demands a fundamental re-organization of the way societies produce and consume. 

Research by the Ellen MacArthur Foundation and Material Economics shows that the renewable energy transition can tackle 55 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions, but the remaining 45 percent are linked to consumption and production. From land management to the production of buildings, vehicles, electronics, clothes, food, packaging, and other everyday goods, 45 percent of global emissions are directly linked to lifestyles.


Closing the lifestyles emissions gap

Lifestyle carbon footprints are the sum of GHG emissions directly emitted and indirectly induced from household consumption – the goods and food people buy, how they live and get around and the services they use. 

The 1.5-Degree Lifestyles study conducted by the Institute for Global Environmental Strategies (IGES), Aalto University, and D-mat ltd. with support from the Finnish Innovation Fund (Sitra), and KR Foundation, quantifies how drastically  lifestyle carbon footprints must be reduced in order to meet the 1.5-degree target. 

The study found that in order to limit global warming to 1.5°C, per-capita lifestyles carbon footprints need to reach 2.5 (tCO2 e) by 2030, 1.4 by 2040 and 0.7 by 2050 to meet the  target. However, as of 2017,per capita lifestyle carbon footprints were estimated to be 10.4 tCO2e in Finland , 7.6 t CO2e in Japan , 4.2 tCO2e in China , 2.8 tCO2e in Brazil,  and 2.0 tCO2e in India.  The study concluded that footprints in developed countries need to be reduced by 80–93 percent by 2050 and by 23–84 percent in developing countries, depending on the context. 


How cities can support the transition

The 1.5-Degree Lifestyles study also identifies several hotspots that drive up lifestyle carbon footprints: meat and dairy consumption, fossil fuel-based energy, car use and air travel. Overall, nutrition, housing and mobility account for approximately 75 percent of total lifestyle carbon footprints. These are sectors that often either fall under the jurisdiction of local governments or that are heavily influenced through their procurement practices, investments and policies. 

The report offers an overview of the lifestyle changes that would trigger the highest emission cuts. For example, in Finland, shifting to a plant-based diet leads to a reduction of over 1 tCO2e/cap/year while using solely public transport for private travelling would result in 1.5 tCO2e/cap/year lessemissions. 

Supporting these changes is key to addressing consumption-based emissions and achieving climate neutrality in cities. “Actions we all make, everyday, to build sustainable good life together will change cities, companies and the world for the better!” says Markus Terho, Project Director of Sustainable Everyday Life at the Finnish Innovation Fund (SITRA).

Yet, acting on lifestyles from a city perspective is a daunting task, far from local governments´ usual public service delivery and administration role. With the global pandemic stretching their capacities thin and the fear of facing social resistance, it can be tough to find the right entry point to encourage lifestyle shifts. However, in their role as enablers and conveners for communities around the world, there are several ways that cities can support the transition to sustainable lifestyles. Circular development is a powerful framework to encourage this transition in a way that favors local economic development and value creation. When it comes to awareness raising, communication strategies exist to ensure the discussion around the transition remains open and inclusive. These strategies will be tested in Turku, Finland in the coming months. 


Turku´s 1.5-Degree Life Campaign

As part of Circular Turku, the city and ICLEI are investigating how circular economy principles, such as reducing (e.g. limiting single person car travel), reusing (e.g. sharing schemes) and rethinking (e.g. shifting to plant-based diets) can best be applied to lifestyles at the local level to reduce related greenhouse gas emissions.

In partnership with Sitra and ICLEI, Turku will be launching the 1.5-Degree Life campaign at the end of October 2020. The campaign vision is to invite youth to showcase how they lead their 1.5 degree lives in a creative way in order to inspire others to join the transition.

The campaign will kick-off a social media video competition, where local youth are invited to share their tips on 1.5-Degree living by producing creative videos. The best videos will be shared on Turku’s social media channels in January 2021 to inspire all citizens to shift towards 1.5 degree lifestyles in the new year. The campaign builds on the city’s collaboration with Turku’s Youth Council and its Youth Climate Panel, which has been providing recommendations to the city council to facilitate climate friendly living, and works with the city to develop joint climate communication materials.

In the recently published Pathways to 1.5-degree lifestyles by 2030, Sitra explored what the 1.5-Degree lifestyles transition will mean for the lives of four different fictional characters with very different lifestyles, values and motivations. Based on lifestyle carbon footprints in Finland, the study suggests changes in individual, civic and political actions, as well as in consumer choices and technologies while always outlining the direct benefits for the individual. By proposing alternatives spanning all areas of life, these pathways mitigate the risks of rebound effects and offer a holistic picture to share with residents of what a 1.5-degree lifestyle transition can look like for them. 

Local stakeholders were engaged in the development of these fictional characters to give them a “Turku twist” and ensure they are relatable for Turku residents and offer real-world examples of 1.5-degree lifestyles options already available in the city. 

What is particularly interesting about this work is that it touches upon people’s individual motivations and underlying rationale for the lifestyle choices that they make. Understanding these and ensuring the campaign connects with Turku residents from different backgrounds is critical to trigger long-term lifestyle shifts” says Lotte Suveri from the city of Turku. 

A global effort to ensure enabling conditions for 1.5-degree living in cities 

Local governments interested in supporting the shift to 1.5-Degree lifestyles in their jurisdiction are invited to join the online session 1.5° Living through Circular Development at ICLEI´s Daring Cities, the Global Virtual Forum for Urban Leaders Tacking on the Climate Emergency.

Following Turku´s lead, Japanese cities will also be rolling out the ‘1.5-Degree Life’ campaign to promote the transition to 1.5-degree lifestyles through art and creativity. Nagano City, together with support from Obuse town and Nagano Prefecture, will collaborate with the city’s climate change education center, youth groups and citizens to show how they experience 1.5-degree living. Yokohama and Kyoto are also partnering with IGES and ICLEI to drive uptake of the 1.5-degree lifestyle through a bottom-up approach. In both cities, a residents panel will implement selected lifestyles changes and share the transition challenges they face. The local governments and businesses will then explore actions to address these barriers.

Ensuring the enabling factors for 1.5-degree living are in place at the local level is a key priority for ICLEI. On the road to the UN Climate Change Conference of the Parties (COP26) to take place in November 2021 in Glasgow, ICLEI will be convening local governments and partners interested in localizing the concept of 1.5-Degree living to assess which policies and local governments actions can best support the transition. 

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Photo credit: City of Turku, Päivi Kosonen