Study shows the unequal distribution of household carbon footprints in Europe – and air travel component
A study carried out by Leeds University and Trondheim University (Norway) looked at the distribution of household carbon footprints in European counties. It investigated the link between higher household income, and their carbon emissions. This included the contribution from air travel. The authors say they found significant inequality in the distribution of high carbon footprints (CFs). The top 10% of the EU population with the highest CFs contribute more carbon compared to the 50% of the EU population with the lowest CFs. Only 5% of the EU households (eg in Romania) live within a CF target of 2.5 tCO2eq/capita per year, while the top 1% of EU households have CFs of 55 tCO2eq/capita. The most significant contribution to CO2 is from air and land transport, making up 41% and 21% respectively of the CF for the top 1% of EU households.The households with the highest CFs are by and large the households with the highest levels of income and expenditure. The high CO2 emissions by the more affluent present challenges for environmental and social objectives. The authors say: “Exploring the prerequisites for living well within carbon limits is a key focus of our time.”
The unequal distribution of household carbon footprints in Europe and its link to sustainability
Diana Ivanova1,2 and Richard Wood2
1 School of Earth and Environment, University of Leeds, Leeds, UK and
2 Industrial Ecology Programme, Norwegian University of Science and Technology, Trondheim, Norway
The distribution of household carbon footprints is largely unequal within and across countries. Here, we explore household-level consumption data to illustrate the distribution of carbon footprints and consumption within 26 European Union countries, regions and social groups. The analysis further sheds light on the relationships between carbon footprints and socially desirable outcomes such as income, equality, education, nutrition, sanitation, employment and adequate living conditions.
We need a good understanding of household carbon distributions in order to design equitable
carbon policy. In this work, we analyse household-level consumer expenditure from 26 European Union (EU) countries and link it with greenhouse gas (GHG) intensities from the multiregional input–output database EXIOBASE.
We show carbon footprint distributions and elasticities by country, region and socio-economic group in the context of per capita climate targets.
The top 10% of the population with the highest carbon footprints per capita account for 27% of the EU carbon footprint, a higher contribution to that of the bottom 50% of the population.
The top 1% of EU households have a carbon footprint of 55 tCO2eq/cap. The most significant contribution is from air and land transport, with 41% and 21% among the top 1% of EU households.
Air transport has a rising elasticity coefficient across EU expenditure quintiles, making it the most elastic, unequal and carbon-intensive consumption category in this study.
Only 5% of EU households live within climate targets, with carbon footprints below 2.5 tCO2eq/cap.
Our analysis points to the possibility of mitigating climate change while achieving various well-being outcomes. Further attention is needed to limit trade-offs between climate change mitigation and socially desirable outcomes.
The EU has committed to an action programme towards a good life for all within the planetary boundaries (European Commission, 2013). Such actions require mitigation efforts by all actors in society and radical reductions in CFs [carbon footprint] to meet climate targets.
In our analysis of the CF of European households using household-level consumption data, we find significant inequality in the distribution of CFs.
The top 10% of the EU population with the highest CFs contribute more carbon compared to the 50% of the EU population with the lowest CFs.
Only 5% of the EU households live within a CF target of 2.5 tCO2eq/cap, while the top 1% of EU households have CFs of 55 tCO2eq/cap.
The households with the highest CFs are by and large the households with the highest levels of income and expenditure. Even more so, we find the contributions of land and air transport to be disproportionally large among the top emitters.
As land transport and, even more so, air transport are both highly carbon intensive and highly elastic, we would argue that significantly more needs to be done in these domains.
Action here is likely to affect those with the highest footprints, incomes and expenditures most, but impacts on low-income groups are also key, as they have significant expenditure shares on land transport.
Finally, we analyse the range in CFs in comparison to levels of social outcomes, pointing to the possibility of mitigating climate change while achieving high well-being. Further attention is needed to limit potential trade-offs between climate change mitigation and socially desirable outcomes.
The distributional perspective presented in this study brings to the surface remaining key challenges to meet both environmental and social objectives. Exploring the prerequisites for living well within carbon limits is a key focus of our time.
The majority of GHG emissions of the top EU emitters are transport-related. In particular, air travel drives a CF of 22.6 tCO2eq/cap among the EU top 1% households, which is about 41% of their total contribution. It is the EU top 10% of households that fly, with an average air travel CF of the rest of the population below 0.1 tCO2eq/cap. The CF associated with air travel increases with rising expenditure and income (Figure 4). In fact, air travel is by far the most elastic consumption in the EU, with an expenditure elasticity of 1.5; this suggests that, as total expenditure doubles, the expenditure on air travel increases by 150% (Figure 5). The consumption category has a rising elasticity with expenditure quintile, reaching 2.0–2.7 among the highest spenders. Whilst the expenditure effect is strong, there are many households with high expenditure that avoid air travel. T