The Consumer

International climate policy has been based in the past on 'territorial emissions'. Those are emissions that occur within your country as a result of your creating energy and the economy. But the landscape of policy is changing as the more developed nations 'outsource' their manufacturing to poorer nations. This makes it appear the developed nations are reducing their emissions from the industrial and agricultural sectors, and that the developing nations are rapidly increasing their emissions (both statements are true, but...). Policies focused on territorial emissions are what we call production-based policies. To be fair, they should be paired with consumption-based policies that assign the emissions from creating something to the point of consumption, not solely to the point of production. When that happens, the apparent emissions in developed nations such as the US increase by another 25% or more above what our nation claims.

Consumption-based policies have the aim of changing consumer behavior by either decreasing consumption of goods or changing the things we buy towards lower carbon goods (or both). Our community should therefore consider how to influence or nudge the decisions of its residents towards lower carbon options. The point is not to deny human needs, but rather to help consumers understand that reasonable needs can be met with much lower carbon options than we currently select.

CCR - acting through the University of Cambridge Centre for Climate Change Mitigation Research - was part of the Carbon CAP project of the European Union, which examined dozens of potential consumer-based policy tools and assessed their likely effectiveness. Carbon CAP considered how much carbon is embodied in the goods we consume in different categories; what the 'pick up rate' (percentage of consumers who adopt the desired behavior) is likely to be based on past experience; and the legal, social, economic and political challenges faced when implementing each instrument. We then sorted the instruments into a 'traffic light' pattern of red (the instrument is very difficult to implement and/or ineffective at producing behavioral change), green (the instrument is simple to implement and effective at producing behavioral change) and yellow (between red and green). You can see the results in the table below, taken from one of our project reports.

The take-away message: Our community will not reach the necessary reduction in carbon emissions unless consumers become as much a part of the solution as producers. Gone are the days when we can think of 'good' citizens and 'bad' industry. We are all part of the problem and the solution.