Greenhouse gas emissions from our consumption do not decrease in the same way as many countries’ national emissions. Instead, we import emissions based on the goods we buy. Emissions per person are still ten times higher than sustainable.
Greenhouse gas emissions have decreased since 1990 in many European countries. But that reduction only applies to emissions within the country’s own borders. If you look at the emissions caused by the consumption of goods and services, it has remained stable at around 11 tonnes per person per year since the beginning of the nineties. The small variations from year to year are mainly explained by the economic cycles. This is just because Europe imports so much consumer goods, much of which comes from Asia.
As emissions at home have decreased, we have increased our dependence on imported goods, especially from China. Therefore, today only one-third of our consumption-linked emissions occur in their own country, and two thirds abroad.
Households account for two-thirds of total consumption-based greenhouse gas emissions. Above all, it is the food, the accommodation, and the transport that gives rise to emissions. The public sector accounts for the remaining third. This is primarily about public investment in infrastructure and more, but also about purchasing for state and municipal operations.
The emission figures for consumption-based emissions offset the local exports, which is, after all, another country’s imports. The emissions caused by exports are then counted instead in the recipient country’s emissions.
We have long left to sustainable consumption
We seem to have a long way to go for sustainable consumption patterns. Switching to sustainable consumption patterns would mean, among other things, that we go less in fossil-fueled cars, eat less meat, fly less and consume fewer gadgets. Taxes and other instruments influence our consumption choices, but price sensitivity is low for several central climate shelters, such as gasoline or air travel. These are things that are consumed almost regardless of tax surcharge or price.
Most of what we like to do affect the climate, so the big question is whether increased awareness can help to change our consumption patterns.