The study, which gives a detailed picture of the effects a transition to fossil-free societies entails, is published in the scientific journal Energy Research & Social Science . It also shows that the groups that risk losing the most also account for the largest part of greenhouse gas emissions. Therefore, climate policy instruments that take more into account specific conditions of different groups can have more positive outcomes.

“By identifying consumer groups at risk of losing from the fossil-free transition, this study emphasises the need for a targeted and well-planned emissions reduction policy and a transitional assistance policy to support a fair and just low-carbon transition for all. Focus must be on how to support those who will have a harder time to cope with the necessary transition.”

— SEI Research Fellow Claudia Strambo

The study underlines that a higher risk for adverse effects does not imply that these groups should avoid emissions reductions, as the alternative scenario is increasingly more severe.  Damaging impacts of climate change will greatly affect the world’s most vulnerable, including within developed countries.

“About 40% of the Swedish population appears to be at greater risk from the adverse wealth and access effects related to a low-carbon transition, because of their heavier car dependence and a limited ability to cope with the expected price effects on carbon-intensive goods. ”

— SEI Research Fellow Maria Xylia

The transition of carbon footprints compatible with at most 1.5°C warming – less than 1 metric ton CO2eq per person by 2050 – will undoubtedly require significant behaviour changes for all societal groups: changes that affect people’s consumption habits, and which impacts are likely to be experienced unevenly by consumers. Failing to account for these differences puts at risk the prospects of a just transition. This is even more important now as both energy and food prices increase, putting more pressure on households but at the same time giving the opportunity for behavioural changes.

“The study also finds that collectively, Swedes at a relatively higher risk of poverty and social exclusion are responsible for approximately 41% of consumption-based emissions,” says SEI Research Fellow Maria Xylia. “This group are the ones with the highest emissions per capita from car use, possibly due to lack of alternatives, such as access to public transportation, as well as their more rural geographic location.”

This study has identified numerous policy measures that are either existing or possible to adopt in a low-carbon transition. The assessment of carbon footprint variations across various socioeconomic groups helps identify specific footprint components where most targeted policy measures are needed.

The footprint variations among different social groups suggest:

  • Food policies at the overarching national level and across all social groups would be more effective in addressing food consumption emissions. This is because food emissions are relatively homogeneous across Sweden’s society.
  • For car travel, more targeted low-carbon and transitional assistance policies at the municipality level may be necessary. This is because this emission category is more linked to sociodemographic status and geographic location.

“The responsibility for reducing those footprints should not rest solely on the consumers,” says SEI Research Fellow Elena Dawkins. “Instead, policymakers should take account of the material, economic, social, and cultural factors that influence consumption and work to ensure that they are aligned to support low-carbon consumption.”

About the study

This study investigates the demand-side aspects of a just and inclusive low-carbon transition. With a focus on the transport and food sectors in Sweden, it combines footprint, sociodemographic and geographic analysis with the assessment of low-carbon transition policies’ distributional impacts from a wealth, access, and health perspective.

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