The EU 1.5° Lifestyles project aims to mainstream 1.5° Lifestyles. But what do we mean by lifestyles, and why 1.5°? We know that our lifestyles have to change if we are to mitigate the worst effects of the climate crisis - and that means creating radical change in the structures that shape our lifestyles, from policy to infrastructure, and economic and societal institutions.
What is the 1.5° target?
Long-running scientific research on greenhouse gas emission projections, climate modelling, and assessments of climate change impacts on the earth and human society, show that limiting warming to 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels is our best chance to mitigate the worst effects of the climate crisis. Achieving the 1.5° target would significantly reduce the risks and impacts of climate change, including ecosystems collapse, temperature extremes, heavy precipitation events, agricultural and ecological damages from droughts, and sea level rise.
The goal “to limit global warming to well below 2, preferably to 1.5 degrees Celsius” was adopted by 196 governments in 2015 as part of the legally binding Paris Agreement. But meeting the target will require rapid and drastic reductions in GHG emissions and achieving net-zero emissions globally by the middle of the 21st century.
According to consumption-based emissions accounting, emissions in high-income countries will need to be reduced by more than 90% by 2050. The window for effective action is small and rapidly closing – if global emissions continue at the current level for the next decade, the chance of achieving the 1.5° target will be lost.
Why are lifestyles important?
Households are estimated to account for around 72% of global emissions. Considering the drastic emissions reductions needed, and the small window of time for effective action, technological solutions alone won’t be enough. We have to think also about how we can change our lifestyles to help achieve the 1.5° target.
But contrary to some popular narratives, our lifestyles are not shaped only by individual choices, they are shaped by the physical, social and political environments in which we live. In order to change lifestyles, we have to focus on changing structural factors, like supply side logics and market structures, regulations of production, advertising, work, and social norms. Only by focusing on systems change can we enable the transformation to sustainable living for communities around the world.
Our lifestyles are also about much more than just consumption patterns and emissions. Lifestyles are shaped by non-economic aspects of our lives, from spending time with friends to caring for children or elderly parents, or playing, exercising, volunteering, or engaging with our communities. All these activities affect our wellbeing as well as our carbon footprint. According to the new 1.5-Degrees Lifestyle Report which focuses on defining A Fair Consumption Space for All, “lifestyles are how we consume, and how we relate to one another, what kind of neighbours, friends, citizens and parents we are, what kinds of values we nurture, and how we let those values drive our choices.”
Changing our lifestyles can help us achieve the 1.5° target, but achieving the 1.5° target is also critical to ensuring quality of life. Lifestyle shifts that are good for the planet have also been shown to improve physical and mental health as well as trust and engagement in communities and quality of social relationships.
A lifestyles perspective on tackling the climate crisis offers a more comprehensive picture of what is at stake if we fail, but also what we stand to gain if we succeed – benefits like healthier lifestyles, a more equal society, a stronger connection with nature, and human, as well as ecological wellbeing.
How can we shift towards 1.5° lifestyles?
Achieving 1.5° lifestyles will require unprecedented systemic transformations around the world, particularly in high-income countries that are contributing so disproportionately to global emissions.
How we eat, travel and set up our homes are key areas where lifestyle changes can make the most impact on emissions reductions while improving quality of life. For example, shifting towards sustainable diets that include less meat and dairy products not only reduces emissions but is also linked to better health outcomes.
Similarly, making changes in how we travel can offer mental and physical health benefits while reducing emissions and air pollution. Shifting from private car transport to active transport, such as cycling or walking whenever possible, can bring great health benefits. Reducing our need for long transport times, for example, by working from home more often, or shifting to forms of shared or public transport, are also critical to cutting emissions.
In our homes, it is important to consider how much space we really need, and to shift towards infrastructure that can provide renewable electricity and less carbon-intensive forms of heating and cooling.
But in order to make these changes at scale, we need to implement systemic shifts that are far more than individual choices. If we are to achieve the 1.5° target, it will require committed policy change, significant infrastructure investment, and engagement from all of us that live and operate within these systems.
Dana Vigran, Dr. Luca Coscieme, Hot or Cool Institute