Imagining a 1.5-degree world: Unlocking meaningful lifestyle change in Europe

Citizen engagement is important work and will play a critical role in the implementation of 1.5-degree lifestyles.

Almost 70% of Europe’s climate emissions are attributable to lifestyles–how we eat, live, move and consume. Reducing these emissions is not as simple as making individual choices at the supermarket. Instead, our consumption is overwhelmingly informed by the social and political environments in which we live. Reducing the carbon emissions of our daily lives, therefore, requires change-makers to focus on structural forces.

The importance of engaging citizens in this collective, societal journey to fairer and more sustainable societies is two-fold:

  1. to equip citizens with the knowledge to take action for themselves and their communities, and, more importantly;
  2. to empower citizens to advocate for the radical systemic change required to impact physical, social and political environments.

While often treated as a tokenistic afterthought, engaging citizens in the design of more sustainable lives and societies should not be disregarded. Strong citizen engagement contributes to climate strategies that are effective, equitable, and aligned with community needs. Furthermore engaging citizens at many stages of the transition improves the support for and uptake of climate positive actions.

Hot or Cool utilises this approach within two of our projects.

The PSLifestyle project, hosted and carried out by a consortium of several European partners and lead by Sitra, showcases the power of citizen engagement.

During the first two years of this project, three rounds of Citizens Science Labs brought together European residents from 8 project pilot countries to co-create and shape visions of a good life with the environment in mind. Additionally, through a series of Living Labs, individuals engaged with their communities to co-create a shared vision for the future.

Among the key outputs of these Labs, participants had the chance to play an active role in the co-creation of the Lifestyle Test – a consumption-based carbon footprint calculator that allows users to measure their footprint, learn of actions to reduce it and track their progress.

Starting from September 2024, the PSLifestyle project team will hold workshops with policy-makers and other stakeholders to collect local insights and innovative solutions on how to best deploy the Lifestyle Test throughout the European Union. This tool will be crucial in the collection of information from the general public on the sorts of changes they may be willing to adopt.

The knowledge and experience shared by citizens reflects an opportunity to further engage communities and build tools that will assist in the transition towards a future within sustainable consumption limits.

The EU I.5 ° Lifestyles Project – formerly led by the University of Münster until January 2024 and now led by RIFS – and its deliverables also demonstrate the strength of citizen engagement.

The project supports the IPCC’s conclusion from the Special Report on Global Warming: limiting global temperature increases requires demand-side actions and lifestyle changes. However, the project recognises the shortcomings of previous attempts to create changes in demand-side actions. Namely, these attempts have been hampered by limited quantitative data supporting climate change mitigation, limited evidence of public acceptance for drastic changes, and policy recommendations that focus on individual behaviour without addressing structural constraints or drivers of unsustainable lifestyles.

The EU1.5° Lifestyles project seeks to engage policymakers and stakeholders, citizens and households, and the broader scientific community in the goal of mainstreaming 1.5-degree lifestyles.

To achieve this goal, and to counter these limiting factors, the consortium has engaged a number of citizens across the 5 case countries in Citizen Thinking Labs. Here, participants have facilitated discussions which are then analysed by researchers to garner a greater understanding of the barriers to behaviour change.

To achieve the mass uptake of significant lifestyle change required to impact carbon outputs, citizen involvement cannot be an afterthought. Rather, citizens must be at the centre, leading the design of sustainable lifestyles.

Researchers, reporters, policy makers and academics are well placed to provide suggestions, but the buy-in of a community is critical for the long-term adoption of behaviours that make a difference in the pursuit of a 1.5-degree world.

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