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Income more important for carbon footprint than metropolitan living

09/11/2013 - Socio-economic drivers like income, education, car ownership or household size seem to be much more important for the carbon footprint of local areas than geographic and infrastructural drivers, a study by Jan Minx from the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research (PIK) and his colleagues shows. Using data from the United Kingdom, the scientists compared consumption-based carbon footprints of 434 municipalities across the country with territorial CO2 emission estimates and found that – whether rural or urban – the way of living makes the real difference.
Income more important for carbon footprint than metropolitan living

Metropolitan living doesn't mean a larger carbon footprint. Photo: Thinkstock

„Depending on the lifestyles of the residents, the carbon footprint of any local area can be high or low, regardless if it is located in the countryside or in the city center,“ lead author Minx says “Because people with similar lifestyles tend to live close together, a careful analysis of the socio-economic profile of an area will tell you a lot about the size of its carbon footprint.” The scientists examined possible drivers for the carbon footprint and found income to be one key factor across municipalities in the United Kingdom, with education, car ownership or household size being no less important. Geographical conditions or drivers related to the settlement infrastructure meanwhile had only little or no impact on the carbon footprint at the level of analysis.

The researchers focused on the carbon footprint of human settlements, which includes all CO2 emissions released in the global supply chain during the production of final goods and services consumed on its territory within a given year. The production of a T-shirt for example causes emissions in many different parts of the word – from the cultivation of the cotton to the dying process, from the manufacturing process to transportation services required for each production step. In contrast, territorial emissions account only for those CO2 emissions directly released from smokestacks and exhaust pipes within the settlement area. „It is difficult to make general statements about the size of the carbon footprint of human settlements it’s not a simple question about income and or metropolitan lifestyles,” Minx says. “Our study shows: a deeper understanding of the carbon footprint of a local area requires a careful assessment of the whole suite of geographical or infrastructural as well as socio-economic drivers.”


Article : Minx, J.; Baiocchi, G., Wiedmann, T., Barrett, J., Creutzig, F., Kuishuang, F., Förster, M., Pichler, P., Weisz, H., Hubacek, K.: Carbon Footprints of Cities and other Human Settlements in the UK. Environmental Research Letters  8 035039 [DOI: 10.1088/1748-9326/8/3/035039]

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