Low-Greenhouse-Gas Consumption Strategies and Impacts on Developing Countries

SEI Working Paper 2012-01

Author(s): Erickson, P. ; Owen, A.; Dawkins, E.
Year: 2012

This paper explores the implications of a potential shift to low-carbon consumption in wealthy countries for the poorer countries where many goods are made, and looks at ways to minimise negative impacts.

A growing body of research shows how shifts in consumer behavior could lead to reductions in greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. By buying fewer goods, especially high-GHG items (e.g. red meat), and redirecting any spending to low-GHG alternatives, consumers could help reduce emissions. Altogether, these shifts could reduce emissions associated with consumption in high-income countries by at least 10 percent, and likely more.

Many of the goods consumed in high-income countries are produced in low-income countries, however, raising questions about the economic impact of reduced consumption on those countries. The authors set out to quantify those impacts and find that if the U.K. and all other high-income countries shifted spending to lower GHG products and services, lower-income countries would be disproportionately affected, with average GDP losses greater than 5 percent in the world's poorest countries.

These findings suggest that greater efforts need to be made to embed development considerations in efforts to reduce emissions from consumption in high-income countries. Several approaches could yield both climate and sustainable-development benefits, the authors note, such as helping low-income countries reduce the GHG-intensity of production; preferentially sourcing products from low-GHG and low-income regions; and helping low-income countries produce higher-value, more-durable goods.

Further research is needed to identify specific opportunities, and to better understand the factors – such as marginal energy sources and production practices – that affect the GHG-intensity of increased production in low-income countries.

Read a policy brief summarizing the study findings

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