Responsibility for greenhouse gas emissions should be placed on the consumers who buy the products and not on the producer making them.
China has held the title of world’s largest emitter of greenhouse gases since 2007. It is also the world’s largest producer, manufacturing everything from iPhones to clothes. But according to Diana Ivanova at the Norwegian University of Science and Technology, China’s per capita consumption-based footprint is small: “They produce a lot of products but they export them.”
Instead of putting responsibility for those impacts on the producer, Ivanova and her colleagues looked at the environmental impact from a consumer perspective. Their analysis shows that consumers are responsible for over 60 per cent of global greenhouse gas emissions and up to 80 per cent of the world’s water use.
“We all like to put the blame on someone else, the government, or businesses,” she says. “But between 60 to 80 per cent of the impacts on the planet come from household consumption. If we change our consumption habits, this would have a drastic effect on our environmental footprint as well.”
Their approach offers consumers a useful tool to help reduce their environmental impact. For instance, the researchers found that buying less beef, dairy products, processed foods and chocolate would have a far better impact on water conservation than taking shorter showers or using the efficiency cycle on washing machines or dishwashers.
Their analysis shows that the United States is the worst performer when it comes to per capita greenhouse gas emissions, with a per capita footprint of 18.6 tonnes CO2 equivalent, followed closely by Luxembourg with 18.5 tonnes and Australia with 17.7 tonnes. China, in contrast, has a per capita carbon footprint of just 1.8 tonnes CO2 equivalent.
“The countries with the highest consumption have about a 5.5 times higher environmental impact over the world average,” explains Ivanova.
The solution is straightforward: stop eating meat and cut back on purchases. “Any activity where we have a choice of buying a product or using a service, the service will have much less impact,” says Ivanova.