Recent IPCC reports highlight the importance of demand-side mitigation strategies. Understanding the motivation and potential of these solutions is critical and could be a key to promoting collective and practical actions during this crucial decade.
On 4 April 2022, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) published the third section (Working Group III) of the Sixth Assessment Report (AR6), or the ‘mitigation report’. This is the first comprehensive assessment since the Paris Agreement. It provides a complete understanding of the current situation as well as the reasons why we must act quickly. In particular, it delivers the strong message that this decade is critical to meet the goal of limiting warming to 1.5 °C, and that the window of action is short. Although mitigation policies have prevented large amounts of emissions in the past it is important that governments around the globe make more ambitious commitments and take more responsibility for their implementations.
Credit: Adyna / DigitalVision Vectors / Getty
Prior mitigation policies focused on the supply side, such as energy system transitions and land-use changes. The AR6 WG III report, for the first time, includes an independent and full chapter on ‘Demand, services and social aspects of mitigation’, which puts individual needs centre stage of the analysis. The report, which includes contributions from scholars from various social-science disciplines, shows how demand-side strategies, including lifestyle changes and social-cultural transitions, could have great potential to reduce emissions in nearly every sector. It also includes information on the motivations of individuals to adopt low carbon behaviours and what actions can be taken to improve them.
Demand-side options may not only reduce carbon emissions from different sectors, but they could also have large interacting and human well-being benefits. They could also have large interacting benefits and enhance human well-being. ArticleCreutzig, along with colleagues, conducted a systematic review of the literature and used expert judgements to prove that most demand-side options, such as changes in consumption patterns, active and shared mobility and dietary modifications, have positive impacts upon human well-being. The most notable improvements in health, air quality, and energy access can be seen. These co-benefits are often framed as the best. These actions could also increase the social aspects of well being, such security and stability.
Demand-side mitigation solutions have important implications for justice. They can be very effective tools to reduce emissions, and they can also help close the well-being gaps. Income and wealth inequalities are closely related to inequalities of the average carbon footprint. These are both a cross and within-country issue (L. Chancel et. al. World Inequality Report 2022; https://go.nature.com/37IyiVr). 13.6% of global lifestyle-related emission is estimated to be attributable to 0.5% of the most wealthy households (I. M. Otto et al. Nat. Clim. Clim. 9, 82–84; 2019There are many demand-side solutions that can reduce emissions by changing lifestyles (see ). The other end of the spectrum could be addressed by well-designed demand-side climate-related intervention to reduce inequality in accessing clean and affordable resources such as renewable energy, services, and other related products. This is crucial for the poorest in developing countries so that their basic needs are met without compromising mitigation targets.N. D. Rao et al. Nat. Nat. 4, 1025–1032; 2019).
As with mitigation instruments on the supply side, there are no shortcuts for meaningful demand-side actions. Demand-side mitigation options require profound and fundamental changes. According to the WG III Report, such transitions would require actions at various levels, including individual cultural, corporate, institutional, and infrastructure. Motivation and capacity are essential for these changes to occur. These changes are complex and any action that only focuses on one dimension of an actor or actor is unlikely to be successful. For such strategies to work in practice, coordination and collaboration are crucial.
Governance and policy are crucial to encourage multidimensional societal changes. This requires innovative, practical, feasible, and equitable designs that meet both society’s mitigation targets and provide decent living conditions. To make these policies work, it is important that the public is aware of them and willing to accept them. Recently, Sweden’s political parties agreed on a deal to include consumption-based emissions in the national climate target, which makes it the first country to officially address demand-side emissions. It is easy to see that implementing such policies will be more difficult in countries with more polarized politics or people who are less concerned about climate change. It is not easy to overcome all possible obstacles.
Demand-side solutions aren’t the silver bullet for the climate crisis. Climate action requires both supply-side and demand side transitions. Researchers, policy professionals, and the public need to collaborate across the globe. We cannot avoid or ignore the fundamental demand-side shift that is occurring rapidly.
About this article
Cite this Article
Action on demand.
Nat. Clim. Chang. (2022). https://doi.org/10.1038/s41558-022-01369-7
Share this article
Anyone who shares this link with others will be able access the content.
Springer Nature SharedIt is the content-sharing initiative