Understanding demand-side solutions to climate change

09 April 2018

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Climate policy research has, for the most part, focussed on examining the conditions under which decarbonisation can be achieved by low-carbon technologies. However, the extent to which changes in people's consumption habits and individual lifestyles can contribute to reducing greenhouse gas emissions is still not well understood.

Research on the “supply side” of low-carbon technologies should be complemented by a much stronger focus on demand-side solutions.

This is the recommendation in a new paper by a team of researchers including INET’s Cameron Hepburn and Linus Mattauch. The researchers, led by Felix Creutzig at the Mercator Research Institute on Global Commons and Climate Change (MCC) has published their results as a comment in “Nature Climate Change”.

The lack of research synthesis and comprehensive understanding of demand-side solutions to climate change is unfortunate as they often entail fewer environmental risks than many supply side technologies, an example being bioenergy. A comprehensive assessment of the underlying science of demand-side approaches for climate change mitigation is thus needed. It requires research synthesis across a wide range of disciplines— such as economics, sociology and psychology, as well as, geography. It should seek to understand why certain patterns of consumption and behaviours prevail and on what norms, values and preferences they are based.

However, this is not to deny that supply-side solutions for climate change mitigation, such as phasing out coal, remain key to reducing emissions, particularly with regards to the use of fossil fuels. An internationally coordinated carbon price remains the single most important policy instrument for decarbonisation. Yet it is not so far understood, for example, whether substantial carbon pricing does not change the consumer’s mindset beyond merely changing relative prices of high-carbon goods.

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