Climate Action

Study confirms big potential of behavioural changes to reduce climate emissions

Vegetarian meal

Changes in consumer behaviour can lead to big reductions in greenhouse gas emissions in the European Union, particularly in the areas of transport, housing and food. This has been confirmed by a study for the European Commission's Directorate-General for Climate Action conducted by the research organisations CE Delft, Fraunhofer Institute for Systems and Innovation Research and LEI Wageningen. Behavioural changes can complement technological changes and can allow emission reduction targets to be reached more cost-effectively overall.

The study identifies 36 options for behavioural change that would cut greenhouse gas  emissions. Of these, 11 particularly relevant options have been studied in detail. They include shifting to a more healthy and balanced diet, eating less meat and dairy products, buying and using a smaller car or an electric car, teleworking, adjusting room temperature and optimising ventilation.

For each of the behavioural changes studied in depth, emission reduction potentials have been quantified for 2020, 2030 and 2050. The study identifies barriers to implementing the changes, and quantifies the likely effects of policy packages which could overcome these barriers.

The results show that the behavioural changes that could take place simultaneously have the potential to save emissions totalling up to about 600 million tonnes of CO2-equivalent a year in 2020. This is about one-quarter of the projected annual emissions from sectors not covered by the EU emissions trading system. The savings potential is particularly high in the area of food.

Developing appropriate policies to encourage such changes in consumer behaviour is not easy but could help Member States reach their 2013-2020 targets for reducing or limiting emissions from these sectors.

The study also indicates long term emission reduction potentials of behavioural change options not covered so far by the economic modelling carried out for the Roadmap for moving to a competitive low carbon economy in 2050. These potentials further strengthen the case that achieving emission reductions of 80-95% below 1990 levels by 2050 is economically feasible.