Reducing one’s carbon footprint is already a reality for many people. Yet, cities and municipalities need to recognize their role in promoting 1.5° living.
Resolving the climate crisis depends on our ability to imagine better futures. Living within the climate goal is already within reach for many people. Twelve Finns imagined their individual lifestyle changes that would reduce their carbon footprint to a sustainable level. However, choices are not as accessible—or even possible—for everyone. In addition to individual action, we need guidance, regulations and smart incentives to enable better sustainable alternatives. Only by combining individual and structural efforts will a 1.5° life be accessible to all.
“Not all lifestyle changes are easy. Reducing your carbon footprint is a bit like training for a marathon. You take on the journey one step at a time. Ultimately the responsibility for finding a solution to our environmental crises lies in the hands of municipalities, companies and decision-makers,” says author and journalist Jenni Räinä from Oulu, who participated in the study.
We at Demos Helsinki, along with Lahti, Oulu and Tampere and twelve city dwellers, found out that the 1.5° climate target can be reached with urban lifestyles. The work aimed to answer the challenge posed by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) at the beginning of August. Based on that study, the carbon footprints of Finns must be reduced radically.
Using the Climate Puzzle, participants imagined and planned changes to their daily lives that would reduce their carbon footprint close to 2.5 tonnes of carbon dioxide, which is considered a sustainable level, by 2030.
“Reducing emissions from housing and consumption has been easy for me. To get to that 2030 level I would need to start winter cycling, but I’m not yet sure I’m ready for that. We need bicycles and equipment suitable for the Finnish winter, as well as well-maintained routes. Cycling must be safe in any weather,” says Simo Santapukki, known from the Apulanta band.
“My wife and I would like to learn how to cook as delicious vegetarian food at home as you get in restaurants and change to a more plant-based diet for health reasons as well. We’re sure there are a lot of plant-based alternatives in the stores that we haven’t even noticed yet,” says Ari Nieminen, an engineer in telecommunications and surveying technology from Tampere.
Leisure and traveling were the most difficult areas for reducing emissions for all participants. Alternatives to air travel were considered difficult. The longstanding tradition of having a cottage is strongly linked to car use and a growing need for energy.
“I know that flying is not good for the climate, but giving up traveling altogether is a really difficult idea for me. Our new cottage has reduced the need to go abroad as often, but I still want to travel in the future,” says midwife and nurse Niina Olenius from Lahti.
Cities have a special opportunity to promote lifestyles that support the 1.5° target. This topic is currently discussed at the UN COP26 climate conference this week.
Measures to reduce one’s carbon footprint may have been seen as reducing one’s freedom of choice and quality of life. This study showed that there is not just one path to a 1.5° life, but a variety of sustainable lifestyles.
To reduce the carbon footprint of housing, there have to be available options for affordable renewable electricity and heating. In addition to mobility electrification, reducing emissions from car use requires efficient public transport and high-quality bicycle and pedestrian networks.
While cities cannot directly influence the climate impacts of air travel, they can develop the urban environment to provide high-quality, local and low-carbon leisure opportunities.
Decision-makers and cities have a special responsibility to support the choice of sustainable lifestyles and to make decisions that reduce the citizens’ carbon footprint.
“The carbon footprint of Lahti residents has already decreased since the city switched from fossil fuels to renewable energy in district heating. The new tram in Tampere has diversified public transport. Thanks to Oulu’s investments in cycling networks you can move faster by bike than by car in the city. The emission reductions required by the 1.5° climate target can only be achieved through the collaboration of politics, business and individuals,” says Otso Sillanaukee, a consultant at Demos Helsinki who conducted the study.
In this study, we focused on looking at the role of cities on the path to a 1.5° life. We acknowledge that the EU, nation-states and municipalities, to name a few, also have a key role and responsibility in promoting sustainable lifestyles and 1.5° life through various means.
Lahti: Päivi Sieppi, Environmental Advisory Manager tel. +358 50 559 4090, firstname.lastname@example.org
Oulu: Leena Tuuri, Environmental Director, tel. +358 44 703 6730, email@example.com
Tampere: Development Manager Laura Inha, tel. +358 40 801 6035, firstname.lastname@example.org
Sustainable Lahti Foundation: Program Director Saara Vauramo, tel. +358 44 7161585, email@example.com
Demos Helsinki: Otso Sillanaukee, tel. +358 50 544 5922, firstname.lastname@example.org
D-mat: Michael Lettenmeier, tel. +358 40 541 2876, email@example.com
Demos of Helsinki’s previous work on sustainable lifestyles
We have been working with sustainable lifestyles over the last decade in a variety of contexts. The SPREAD – Sustainable Lifestyle Scenarios 2050 report presents our large-scale and in-depth study of the development of sustainable lifestyles from now until 2050.
iFuture – The Diversity of Sustainable Lifestyles is a European consumer survey on future lifestyles. We profiled 80 participants based on their material footprints. Based on this unique combination of material footprints and international focus groups, we developed a new model for consumer behavior.
The Pathways to 1.5° Lifestyles by 2030 report presents four different fictitious lifestyles with which we can achieve the globally sustainable carbon footprint targets set for 2030.
The 1.5° climate target has been set by the UN to avoid the most dangerous consequences of climate change. In Finland, a climate policy in line with the 1.5° target requires carbon neutrality by 2035. To achieve carbon neutrality, the average Finn must reduce their carbon footprint to a quarter of the current ten tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent (10 tCO2e), i.e. 2.5 tonnes per year by 2030. Studies show that the means and technologies for this already exist and are increasingly available to people as well. This challenge is being addressed through the 1.5 Degree Urban Lifestyles project, which is done in collaboration with the Finnish cities of Lahti, Tampere and Oulu, the Sustainable Lahti Foundation, Finnish Innovation Fund Sitra, think tank Demos Helsinki and D-mat.