In recent years, climate policy analysts have explored the links between consumption patterns and greenhouse gases (GHGs) by developing methods to estimate life-cycle emissions associated with different categories of consumption, e.g., a carbon “footprint” or a “consumption-based” GHG inventory.

Implicit in many of the studies is the notion that shifts in consumption patterns could lead to reductions in global emissions. For example, if consumers were to shift their purchases from particularly GHG-intensive goods and services (e.g., red meat) to less GHG-intensive goods and services (e.g., grains and legumes) global emissions may decline. However, surprisingly few studies have attempted to construct long-term scenarios for how shifts in consumption patterns and behaviour could reduce emissions.

Here the authors develop a methodology to construct such scenarios, then apply it to a major U.S. city, Seattle, Wash., which has been active in climate action planning and helped organize over one thousand U.S. mayors to adopt GHG-reduction goals.

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