Pursuing necessary reductions in embedded GHG emissions of developed nations: Will efficiency improvements and changes in consumption get us there?

Bjørn A, Kalbar P, Nygaard S E, Kabins S, Jensen C L, Birkved M, Schmidt J, Hauschild M Z (2018)

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Global Environmental Change 52:314-324


The COP21 summit in Paris led to a policy commitment of limiting the global temperature increase to 1.5–2.0 °C and this can be translated to a global annual greenhouse gas (GHG) emission budget that is shrinking rapidly throughout the 21st century. Here, we estimate the reductions in GHG emission intensities of technologies that will be required for the embedded GHG emissions of a developed nation to stay within its fair share of a global emission budget in the year 2050. The estimates are made for different conceivable developments in consumption patterns in the case of Denmark, based on a large survey of current consumption patterns. To evaluate whether the required emission intensity reductions are likely to be met, they are compared to historic time series of emission intensities and to projections for 2050, based on policies currently in place, for ten technologies that have a high contribution to current GHG emissions.

We estimate that emission intensities must be reduced by factors of 2–12 and 5–14, depending on the development in consumption, for the 2.0 and 1.5 °C climate goals, respectively. Of the ten selected technologies, only electricity supply is projected to, partially, meet the most strict reduction target, applying to a scenario where all inhabitants in 2050 consume as the most consuming inhabitants today.

The results indicate that both a change in “consumption as usual” and in “business as usual” is needed for developed nations to meet equitable climate targets. This has implications for national and international policies targeting GHG emission intensities and may require a new orientation of policies to consider the societal structures around consumption.

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