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EU can take the lead in reducing consumption-based emissions – Report

A new report by the Stockholm Environment Institute (SEI) has revealed that the EU’s focus on territorial emissions understates the impact of its consumption globally.

Katarina Axelsson
Katarina Axelsson, Senior Policy Fellow at SEI

The study shows huge potential for the EU to raise the ambition of its climate action by addressing Member States’ consumption-based emissions and lowering consumption overall.

Between 1990 and 2020, the EU slashed its territorial emissions by 29%. Yet, its consumption-based CO₂ emissions (CBEs), which account for about 9% of global CO₂ emissions, disproportionately exceed its 5.7% share of the global population.

The new study by SEI investigates the EU’s potential to lead global efforts in mitigating CBEs. It identifies three main barriers: the need for coordinated action among Member States, the absence of standardised monitoring systems and the lack of transparency in global supply chains.

Katarina Axelsson, Senior Policy Fellow at SEI, said: “By addressing these barriers, the EU has the potential to greatly boost climate action by decreasing consumption-based emissions and setting an example for other nations to follow.”

There is significant variation in the average consumption footprint among Member States, ranging from 11.0 tons of CO₂ equivalent per person in Denmark and Luxembourg to 4.6 tons in Slovakia. This disparity underscores the difficulties that individual Member States face in tackling emissions alone and highlights the potential benefits of EU-wide coordinated action. Case studies from Sweden, Denmark and France in 2021 reveal that a substantial portion of their CBEs stem from imports: 64% in Sweden, 56% in Denmark and 50% in France.

As population and prosperity grow in many Member States, consumption rates naturally increase. However, improvements in production efficiency are not enough to offset the rise in CBEs.

“There is therefore a need for policies and measures to promote strong sustainability and focus on shifting consumption patterns, emphasizing not only production efficiency gains but to reduce consumption overall that generates emissions both in the EU and abroad. Both the EU and member states have a role to play in addressing consumption hotspots,” says Timothy Suljada, Head of Division Resources, Rights and Development.

To accelerate EU climate mitigation outcomes, the report authors argue that strategies and tools should:

  • Acknowledge the significant role of household consumption in driving environmental issues.
  • Expand policy measures that target household consumption and its impacts to shift and reduce consumption alongside efficiency measures. This includes implementing uniform carbon pricing and establishing standards to restrict the carbon footprints of products and services.
  • Use consistent, standardised and reliable metrics across national boundaries to identify and measure meaningful and actionable areas of consumption.
  • Set definitive targets for CBEs at the EU level to increase the political support for measures targeting consumption-based emissions and strengthening legislation at both EU and Member State level.

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