When the countries of the world came together in Paris in 2015 to build consensus on climate change, they collectively agreed to pursue measures that would limit the rise in global temperatures to 1.5 degrees Celsius. Since then, much of the research into how countries can meet this target has focused on sustainable energy production, re-forestation, and technologies for carbon capture. Very little has been done to address the 1.5-degree target at the level of the individual; to provide people with insights into what changes they should make in their own lives to limit their carbon footprints.
A new report entitled 1.5 Degree Lifestyles is addressing this gap in climate change knowledge. Jointly prepared by Aalto University and the Institute for Global Environmental Studies in Japan, the report provides per capita carbon footprints in several example countries, and makes proposals on the lifestyle changes needed if the temperature target is to be met.
Comprehensive data sets for nutrition, housing and mobility illustrate the massive carbon impact of these three areas, and the equally massive reductions that must take place by 2030. In developed countries – where carbon footprints are the largest – the impact of nutrition needs to be reduced by at least 47%, housing by 68% and mobility by 72%. The reductions needed by 2050 are even higher.
Deep insights, immediate results
The project to create the report was led by post-doc researcher Michael Lettenmeier, who has been teaching sustainable product and service design at Finnish universities for more than 20 years.
"We went through the existing climate change scenarios – of which there are hundreds – and noticed that most of the studies are related to technologies for reducing carbon impact. So we tried find out what the 1.5-degree target means in terms of lifestyles," says Lettenmeier. "I believe this study is a world first in terms of demonstrating the actions that need to be taken at the household level in order to meet the target."
"In earlier projects, we found that when we show people their impact and what they can do to change it, then they're immediately able to cut their footprints by tens of percents."
In one such project, Lettenmeier and his team created for The Finnish Innovation Fund Sitra an online tool that people in Finland are now using to calculate their carbon footprint (defined as the amount of consumption multiplied by its carbon intensity). With short multiple choice questions on housing, transport, food consumption and more, the tool quickly reveals the impact of an individual's lifestyle choices, and recommends around 50 footprint-reducing actions out of a list of 100. To date, the calculator has been used by over 600,000 people – more than 10% of Finland's population.
Cutting down on meat and mobility
Lettenmeier's team kicked off some of the background work for 1.5 Degree Lifestyles through a project with five households in Jyväskylä, a small city in central Finland.
"We helped five families to measure their carbon and material footprints, and then we co-created a reduction roadmap for each up to 2030," he says. "On the basis of a one-month experimentation phase, we were surprised at how quickly the households were able to start coming close to their 2030 targets."
"Consumption of meat and dairy products account for more than two thirds of the average carbon footprint for nutrition in Finland, so we placed a lot of emphasis on changing eating habits during the experiments. One family tried vegan nutrition, while another family tried eating non-meat meals every second day."
The international data the team has collected comes to life in 1.5 Degree Lifestyles through a set of infographics for five different countries. The researchers illustrate the carbon footprints and targets of average households in the key domains of mobility, housing and nutrition for Finland, Japan, China, India and Brazil.