Quantifying the potential for consumer-oriented policy to reduce European and foreign carbon emissions

The EU Carbon-CAP project assembled a comprehensive portfolio of consumer initiatives in order to assess the potential total impact of consumer options on national carbon footprints. Existing evaluations of behavioural change have focused primarily on direct energy reductions, typically in households and buildings. However, changes in consumer demand have deeper impacts via their upstream supply chains. The consumer behaviour options considered in the portfolio focus on green household initiatives. Combining existing micro-level studies with a multiregional input-output economic model, we estimated the potential efficacy and uptake of each behaviour across the European Union (EU). The results suggest that adopting these consumer options could reduce carbon footprints by approximately 25%. While 75% of this is delivered as reductions in emissions within Europe, one-quarter of the effect is delivered as a reduced imported carbon footprint, due to changes in the composition of imports.

Key policy insights

Consumer initiatives can have a big effect on embodied carbon imports, in addition to domestic impacts

We connect a portfolio of ∼90 green behaviour changes to a global supply chain database to model impacts holistically

We estimate that with reasonable levels of adoption green consumer actions can reduce the EU CO2 footprint by 25%

A quarter of this effect is delivered in the form of reduced embodied emissions in imports

Consumer initiatives can have a big effect on embodied carbon imports, in addition to domestic impacts

We connect a portfolio of ∼90 green behaviour changes to a global supply chain database to model impacts holistically

We estimate that with reasonable levels of adoption green consumer actions can reduce the EU CO2 footprint by 25%

A quarter of this effect is delivered in the form of reduced embodied emissions in imports