The decarbonisation of Europe powered by lifestyle changes

Research output: Contribution to journalLetterResearchpeer-review


  • Luís Costa
  • Vincent Moreau
  • Boris Thurm
  • Yu, Wusheng
  • Clora, Francesco
  • Gino Baudry
  • Hannes Warmuth
  • Bernd Hezel
  • Tobias Seydewitz
  • Ana Rankovic
  • Garret Kelly
  • Jürgen P. Kropp
Decision makers increasingly recognise the importance of lifestyle changes in reaching low emission targets. How the mitigation potential of changes in mobility, dietary, housing or consumption behaviour compare to those of ambitious technological changes in terms of decarbonisation remains a key question. To evaluate the interplay of behaviour and technological changes, we make use of the European Calculator model and show that changes in behaviour may contribute more than 20% of the overall greenhouse gas (GHG) emission reductions required for net-zero by 2050. Behaviour and technology-oriented scenarios are tested individually and in combination for the EU plus the UK and Switzerland. The impacts of behavioural change vary across sectors, with significant GHG emission reduction potential and broader benefits. Changes in travel behaviour limit the rising demand for electricity, natural resources and infrastructure costs from the electrification of passenger transport. Adopting a healthy diet reduces emissions substantially compared to intensifying agricultural practices, while at the same time making cropland available for conservation or bioenergy crops. The trade-offs between energy and food may be substantially alleviated when deploying technological and behavioural changes simultaneously. The results suggest that without behavioural change, the dependency of Europe on carbon removal technologies for its net-zero ambitions increases. Structural changes will be necessary to achieve full decarbonisation by 2050, yet changes in lifestyles are crucial, contributing to achieving climate targets sooner.
Original languageEnglish
Article number044057
JournalEnvironmental Research Letters
Issue number4
Number of pages12
Publication statusPublished - 2021

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