Consumption-Based Emissions Reporting - Energy and Climate Change Contents

6  Changing behaviour

84.  The Committee received a substantial amount of evidence that indicated consumption-based emissions reporting could be used to better communicate to individuals the impact of their consumption. WWF-UK's Dr Keith Allot told us that consumption-based emissions reporting "can be used to engage people, to change behaviour, and to have better decisions about how we consume".[156] Guy Shrubsole of the Public Interest Research Centre added that "consumption-based emissions reporting opens up a whole new scope of policy looking more comprehensively at demand-side measures […] this will engage the consumer far more".[157]

85.  The Green Alliance's report on using behavioural insights to make green living energy policy work—Bringing it home—concluded that the Government was using "too many carrots" when trying to get people to consume more sustainably.[158] The Green Alliance explained that evidence from behavioural science suggested, "humans are loss averse and will put more effort into preventing a loss than securing a gain".158 However, it added that most financial levers used by government are incentives rather than disincentives.

86.  A report prepared for the Joseph Rowntree Foundation by the Fabian Society—Climate Change and Sustainable Consumption: What do the public think is fair?—concluded that "despite the strong support expressed for behaviour change and environmental policies [...] there was no great desire to change behaviour".[159] Through a series of focus groups, the Rowntree study found evidence that whereas government approaches to behaviour change attempted to appeal to a consumer's self-interest, the concept of "fairness" could also be an important factor in building support for action.[160] On the one hand, some participants in the Rowntree focus groups thought over-consumption was wrong as it increased the likelihood of dangerous climate change, whilst others thought it unfair as given a scarce resource—in this case the atmosphere's capacity to absorb CO2—over-consumption by some would mean others would have to reduce their consumption even further.[161]

87.  Chris Tuppen, Director of the Aldersgate Group (a coalition of environment agencies, NGOs, think tanks and industry) noted that consumption-based emission reporting can also influence the behaviour of government and business, as "procurement decisions can be influenced much more strongly by looking at a consumption-based reporting model".[162] However, the Minister told us that:

The only way to affect consumption, fundamentally, is not to stop consumption but is for the countries that are exporting the goods to us to take greater measures to ensure that the products that they export to us have higher standards and a lower carbon footprint.[163]

88.  We disagree with DECC's claim that the only way to affect emissions associated with UK consumption is for countries that export the products we consume to lower their carbon intensities. Reducing the carbon intensity of exporting countries is helpful, but it fails to address that emissions are also rising because the UK is consuming more. The UK's consumption cannot rise indefinitely and we see a role for consumption-based emissions reporting in addressing this unsustainable behaviour and in encouraging UK-based consumers and businesses to pay more attention to the overall carbon footprint of the goods and services they purchase.

89.  As discussed in Chapter 2, the Lake District National Park Authority, Manchester City Council, and Wessex County each undertook an assessment of their emissions on a consumption-basis, and told us how it provided a useful narrative for encouraging individuals to reduce their consumption. Richard Leafe, Chief Executive of the Lake District National Park, told us that consumption-based emissions reporting had been "a very useful tool in working out which sectors we most need to engage with and talk to about their emissions".[164] West Sussex County Council's Principal Adviser, Dr Wendy Benson, described to us how her Council had "found that [the consumption-based approach] is a much clearer way of engaging with people".[165] Richard Sharland, Manchester City Council's Head of Environment Strategy added, "There is an opportunity for consumption-based metrics to create a quite different set of dialogues, particularly with consumers". [166] The Public Interest Research Group's Director Guy Shrubsole explained that consumption-based emissions reporting "opens up a whole new scope of policy looking more comprehensively at demand-side measures, and not simply supply-side measures".[167] The University of York's Elena Dawkins explained, "the consumption approach might appear more relevant to a householder if they are thinking about reducing their emissions as opposed to putting all the burden on an industry somewhere else". [168] Professor Barrett suggested that DECC may not recognise the full range of [policy] applications that consumption-based emissions reporting has to offer.[169]

90.  We received evidence about the benefits of considering consumption-based emissions when making policy. The University of Manchester's Dr Alice Bows told us that "If you have a greater scope of policies that can tackle the demand side then that will actually mean that the UK is having greater influence over global emissions because it will be accounting for a greater share".[170] Professor Barrett added that the UK "may potentially ignore policies that could have a greater reduction in emissions at least cost because we are ignoring a significant chunk of options on the demand side" through the Government's lack of emphasis on consumption-based emissions.[171].

91.  We asked the Minister whether he thought that DECC and Defra should work together to disseminate data on the UK's consumption-based emissions, and work towards translating these into demand-focused policies. He said, "I totally agree", but stressed that a lot of this work was currently led by Defra.

92.  We conclude that consumption-based emissions reporting can be used to inform people of the impacts of their own behaviour on global emissions. This has been demonstrated by the experience of regional authorities, which have used consumption-based emissions metrics to engage with their citizens more effectively. We recommend that this is reflected in the forthcoming demand-side work of the recently opened Energy Efficiency Development Office in DECC.

Carbon labelling

93.  The Carbon Trust developed the "Carbon Reduction Label", which aimed to help consumers see "at a glance which products are working to reduce their carbon footprints".[172] Brands that are marked with the label are required to calculate the exact footprint of the product in question to the PAS 2050 standard, which was developed by the Carbon Trust in partnership with Defra and the BSI British Standards. The Carbon Trust's Eric Lounsbury told us, "as you do more and more specific product labelling, you can do it quite cost-effectively [...] There are no insurmountable problems to get to the next level of detail".[173] Once a brand has its carbon footprint measured and certified, the brand then has to commit to reducing the product's emissions—"every two years, the product must be reassessed and a reduction has to have been achieved and independently certified, or the label is removed".[174]

94.  Defra's Lord Taylor explained to us, "the Government is trying to deal with [embedded carbon emissions] through eco-labelling and energy-labelling. These are areas where consumer behaviour is hopefully being influenced".[175] However, Professor Barrett and Dr Bows both thought that carbon labelling did not have any particular influence on the consumer.[176]Jeremy Nicholson, Director of the Energy Intensive Users Group observed, "There seems to be very little evidence that there is large consumer demand [yet] when you ask people to pay a premium for 'lower carbon' products."[177]

95.  Consumers might be encouraged to buy lower carbon products (manufactured in other countries) if consumption based emission figures were more visible, and they could see the beneficial impact of their voluntary actions. But if UK policy makers only emphasise territorial measures of emissions, decisions made by the British consumer to procure lower carbon products from other countries—which will have a beneficial effect on global emissions—will not appear in the UK's emissions measurements at all.

96.  We acknowledge that progress has made on eco-labelling of products in order to encourage more sustainable consumption, but we conclude that more could be done to make use of the data that Defra collects on consumption-based emissions. Government should do more to make people aware of the consumption-based emissions data gathered by Defra. We recommend that DECC recognise the limitations of territorial emissions in trying to communicate to consumers how they can change their behaviour in order to reduce emissions globally. Even if an increased emphasis on consumption-based emissions has no impact on the UK's local territorial emissions, the UK has to address its consumption if it is to make an effective contribution to a global reduction in greenhouse gas emissions.

156   Q 67 Back

157   Q 68 Back

158   Green Alliance, Bringing it home-Using behavioural insights to make green living energy policy work, 2011, p 44 Back

159   Joseph Rowntree Foundation, Climate Change and Sustainable Consumption: What do the public think is fair?-Summary, December 2011, p 4 Back

160   Joseph Rowntree Foundation, Climate Change and Sustainable Consumption: What do the public think is fair?- Summary, December 2011, p 4 Back

161   Joseph Rowntree Foundation, Climate Change and Sustainable Consumption: What do the public think is fair?-Summary, December 2011, p 3 Back

162   Q 71 Back

163   Q 162 Back

164   Q 97 Back

165   Q 97 Back

166   Q 97 Back

167   Q 68 Back

168   Q 15 Back

169   Q 16 Back

170   Q 9 Back

171   Q 15 Back

172   Carbon Trust, What is the Carbon Reduction Label, Back

173   Q 77 Back

174   Carbon Trust, A guide to the Carbon Reduction Label, Back

175   Q 160 Back

176   Q 11 Back

177   Q 57 Back

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© Parliamentary copyright 2012
Prepared 18 April 2012