It starts at home? Climate policies targeting household consumption and behavioral decisions are key to low-carbon futures

Energy Research & Social Science

Through their consumption behavior, households are responsible for 72% of global greenhouse gas emissions. Thus, they are key actors in reaching the 1.5 °C goal under the Paris Agreement. However, the possible contribution and position of households in climate policies is neither well understood, nor do households receive sufficiently high priority in current climate policy strategies.

This paper investigates how behavioral change can achieve a substantial reduction in greenhouse gas emissions in European high-income countries. It uses theoretical thinking and some core results from the HOPE research project, which investigated household preferences for reducing emissions in four European cities in France, Germany, Norway and Sweden. The paper makes five major points: First, car and plane mobility, meat and dairy consumption, as well as heating are the most dominant components of household footprints.

Second, household living situations (demographics, size of home) greatly influence the household potential to reduce their footprint, even more than country or city location. Third, household decisions can be sequential and temporally dynamic, shifting through different phases such as childhood, adulthood, and illness. Fourth, short term voluntary efforts will not be sufficient by themselves to reach the drastic reductions needed to achieve the 1.5 °C goal; instead, households need a regulatory framework supporting their behavioral changes. Fifth, there is a mismatch between the roles and responsibilities conveyed by current climate policies and household perceptions of responsibility. We then conclude with further recommendations for research and policy.