One of the greatest challenges for decarbonizing our economy is changing individual behaviors. Household consumption accounts for between a half to two-thirds of all carbon emissions. So changing the way we consume — and what we consume — is going to be critical to getting to net zero.
Homi Kharas is a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution and a former chief economist of the East Asia & Pacific Region of the World Bank.
KHARAS: At the end of the day, much of the increase in carbon emissions that we are seeing is fueled by the desire to have prosperity and for that prosperity to spread to other parts of the world. The middle class in the world is now over 4 billion people. And the great challenge today is how do we allow people to strive for prosperity and reduce carbon emissions at the same time?
BRINK: Do you think it’s going to be possible to reach a goal of anything near the 1.5 degrees Celsius rise in temperatures without some significant change in lifestyles by the middle classes?
KHARAS: Lifestyles are always changing and people respond to price signals. For example, today you and I are talking for free on a video phone. If we were to have done this 20 years ago, we’d be paying a very handsome amount of money. Prices change and as prices change, quantities change.
I’m sure there will have to be changes in relative prices. And that will drive a great deal of the changes in consumption that we’ll need to see. The price of things like long-haul airline flights, or airline flights in general will have to change, unless the technology of planes actually changes. Another example is red meat. And within red meat, the categories of beef and lamb and mutton, in particular.
At the end of the day, we need to live within a certain carbon budget. If you are a vegan, you are emitting far less greenhouse gases in terms of your food consumption than if you are a red meat consumer. So what you need to do in other areas can be smaller. Everybody will have choices in that regard.
The two that I’ve mentioned — red meat and airline travel — probably deserve some kind of luxury tax. Exactly how big that luxury tax is really depends on how quickly we would like to see reductions in these areas compared to other areas. And importantly, on how much technology changes.
Read the full article about consumer behavior in decarbonizing by Homi Kharas at Brink.
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