Key learnings for cities to enable 1.5-degree lifestyles

By ICLEI | November 2, 2020

“In Japan, acting on household consumption is key as it is estimated to drive up to 60 percent of national emissions” said Dr. Satoshi Kojima San of IGES at the Daring Cities session 1.5-Degree Living through Circular Development. Japan recently committed to become carbon neutral by 2050 and is putting the circular economy at the forefront of its climate efforts with the aim of redesigning consumption and production systems to mitigate consumption-based emissions. These emissions result from the consumption of goods and services and are central to climate neutrality efforts. Similarly, having pledged to become carbon neutral by 2035, Finland is now developing a strategic program to transform its economy into one that is based on the principles of circular economy. The city of Turku, a champion in localizing the circular economy, is coordinating the inputs of Finnish cities and regions to the strategic program.

Why cities engage in 1.5-Degree Lifestyles

The circular economy is gaining traction in cities worldwide as a key element of climate action. A useful tool for cities to connect their climate and circular economy policies to communities´everyday reality and address consumption-based emissions is the 1.5-Degree Lifestyles framework. Developed by the Finnish innovation fund Sitra and IGES, the 1.5-Degree Lifestyles framework quantifies how drastically lifestyle carbon footprints must be reduced in order to meet the 1.5-degree target and which lifestyle changes most support this transition. With support from ICLEI and the International Urban Cooperation, Turku, Nagano Prefecture and Obuse Town (Japan) are kickstarting community engagement processes around 1.5-Degree lifestyles.

The framework is also relevant in a developing countries context, where low lifestyle footprints may deter from acting on consumption-based emissions. “In sub-saharan Africa, lifestyles carbon footprints are less than 1 ton of CO2e per person. This means we are not necessarily dealing with present behaviors but future ones, which will emerge as cities grow, making the 1.5-Degree lifestyles framework an important adaptation tool” says Paul Currie from ICLEI Africa.

The need for a systems approach

Lifestyle changes only take us so far if city infrastructure and services don´t support decarbonization. It is critical for cities wishing to act on lifestyles to first show policy commitments and investments towards infrastructure and city services that make the transition to 1.5-Degree lifestyles convenient and cost neutral for residents. “The system needs to change and individuals need to change” summarizes Markus Terho from SITRA.

This is why Turku´s 1.5-Degree Life campaign starts by showcasing how “Turku is doing its part to keep the word on track to the 1.5 degree target”, for instance through investments in sustainable energy and infrastructure, circular economy innovations and low-carbon transport that have already allowed Turku to cut emissions by half. Acknowledging that products and services flowing through cities must also support the transition, Turku is focusing on engagement of local businesses offering decarbonized innovations by featuring them as 1.5-Degree solutions providers as part of the campaign.

In cities of the developing world where most of the built environment has yet to be constructed, infrastructure planning must support 1.5-Degree Lifestyles in a proactive manner, to avoid locking a growing population in carbon-intensive practices for decades to come.

Three tools for cities to communicate about 1.5-Degree lifestyles

With enabling conditions in place, city dwellers will be more prone to engage in 1.5-Degree Lifestyles. Here are three tips coming from city practitioners and lifestyles experts to communicate about the 1.5-Degree Lifestyles to city residents in a way that resonates with their individual aspirations and needs.

  • Adapt the message to different types of audience: “Consumption drivers and motivations include priority need and practicality, time saving, durability, relevance in everyday life. Oftentimes, the considerations that drive consumption do not include climate action“ says Markus Thero from SITRA. This is why communicating about 1.5-Degree lifestyles is most efficient when focusing on co-benefits (e.g. cost savings, health, practicality, sense of community) that are most relevant to different target groups. In the Pathways to 1.5-Degree lifestyles by 2030, Sitra describes four characters with different lifestyles and values. The attributes of these people are based on previous work featured in the SPREAD Scenarios for Sustainable Lifestyles 2050 and Sitra´s Motivation profiles of smart consumption and can form the basis of local campaigns targeted to different consumer groups and their specific aspirations.
  • Different channels for different contexts: 1.5-Degree lifestyles campaigns will compete for attention against the billboards and other mass consumption advertisements that currently shape what is seen as affluent. Therefore, it is key to diversify communication channels and reach out to various stakeholders, from religious communities to influencers depending on the context. Turku´s 1.5-Degree life campaign, Turku is focusing on online engagement of young Turku residents through social media and existing local youth platforms, such as the city’s Youth Climate Panel. In the long-term, Turku wishes to have a wide variety of Turku residents as champions of a 1.5 degree Lifestyle. “We need different people on board, we need them to be messengers” says Liisa Lahti from Turku.
  • Break down your message: Not everything needs to happen at once. Changing habits takes time and transitions are most durable when each piece of changes has settled in people’s everyday life. In their 2030 Pathways, Sitra presents the needed changes in lifestyles spread across a 2019-2030 timeframe. And it starts with low-hanging fruit: easy lifestyle shifts people can implement right away, such as cutting down on meat and dairy products, buying second-hand instead of new and going on holidays to places accessible by public transport. A lot can also be learned from how Cape Town managed its recent water crisis. “Within 18 months, water consumption was halved, mainly through institutional and social shifts” says Paul Currie, “this was achieved in parts through communication campaigns showcasing where residents are in the water management system and what sustainable water consumption looks like in practice, for instance through the guide to 50 liters of water per day”.

Making 1.5-Degree Lifestyles inclusive

Nudging city residents towards 1.5-Degree lifestyles raises the question of who is being nudged. Do these groups have access to services and goods that allow them to live a fulfilling life? While Cape Town´s 50 liters of water per day campaign was successful, many emphasized that this threshold had always been their reality before the water crisis.

Cities must improve quality of lives for all residents, at the same time as they lay the foundation for sustainable infrastructure and encourage lifestyle shifts. The transition to 1.5-Degree lifestyles must contribute to a higher quality of life. Circular economy strategies can help decouple well-being from resource consumption. “Sharing practices, which focus on access to products and services rather than ownership foster solidarity and a sense of community while encouraging sustainable consumption practices“ says Pieter van de Glind from the Sharing Cities Alliance. “During the pandemic, sharing practices rose in many cities around the world as a way to build solidarity within neighbourhoods.”

Positioned at the intersection of consumption and production systems, cities are relevant enablers to create trust and meeting points for different stakeholders to contribute to 1.5-Degree Lifestyles. Experiences in Turku show that 1.5-Degree Lifestyles efforts must be holistic and embedded into a transition of city services, infrastructures and business innovations towards decarbonization. 1.5-Degree Lifestyles campaigns also present an opportunity for cities to communicate about their climate efforts in a compelling and empowering way that can build on the momentum created by community movements such as Fridays for Future.

This article was originally published by ICLEI.

Learn more about Turku´s 1.5-Degree Living campaign and contact circular.development@iclei.org for more information about ICLEI´s efforts to promote 1.5-Degree lifestyles.

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