February 27, 2020
In June 2019 C40 Cities, Arup & the University of Leeds with support from Citi Foundation published The Future of Urban Consumption in a 1.5º World, a report highlighting that emissions due to consumption in high-income cities must be reduced by two-thirds in the next decade to avert the climate crisis. According to their predictions, doing so would save hundreds of thousands of lives and generate billions in savings.
More than one year before that, in the spring of 2018, Umeå municipality surveyed local residents to understand more about their consumption habits, as part of an initiative titled the Low-Carbon Place (Den koldioxidsnåla platsen). The purpose of the study was to help the municipality to identify those areas of household consumption with the greatest impact on the climate and thus how the municipality can support more sustainable lifestyles.
According to Johan Sandström, Head of Sustainable Development Department of Umeå, their aim was “to broaden the picture. When you look at Umeå as a territorial area and you are calculating emissions only from Umeå, it looks quite good because we have so much renewable energy. But we are consuming a lot of products and are doing a lot of travels. So if you are looking at consumption based-emissions, we are not that good.”
One positive outcome of the survey was that its results became a source of awareness for politicians and citizens, a sort of eyeopener, that made people align and share the vision that they had to do more. They became aware of how emissions rise with income and got information about how they could reduce the emissions caused by their consumption habits. The results of the action were published in “Climate-smart choices for sustainable lifestyles” was published.
Another action that followed in Umeå was the determination “to adopt consumption-based targets when it comes to climate change. That means 2 tonnes of carbon emissions per capita in 2040. And we are trying to calculate that in consumption-based emissions. Right now it is 11.5 tonnes of CO2 emissions per person, per year”.
What one gains by doing so is to address and take responsibility not only for territorial emissions, but also for the emissions that are generated in other regions and countries. “Emissions are really connected to your salary. People having a lot of money are also the people having lots of emissions associated with their consumption behaviour. If we are having more money here than in other nations, we are also consuming a lot more. And that consumption is being produced in other countries and those emissions are not showing here in Sweden, it shows in China, or in Spain, or... And we are also doing lots of travel by airplanes and there are also emissions that you don’t count if you are looking at the territorial level of Umeå”, says Johan.
“It is a good way to show that the lifestyle that we have here creates emissions in other regions and countries”
The perspective added by quantifying and taking consumption-based emission into consideration also leads to a further reflection, especially in places like Umeå, where the production of renewable energy covers and even exceeds the municipalities needs: the impact of local consumption becomes even bigger.
Johan Sandström's experience on this: “If you look at the consumption-based carbon emissions, of course, if you are consuming more products that are being produced here it is better than consuming products that are being produced in a place when they have coal or oil as an energy source.”
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