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Households in populous urban regions are more likely to have a bigger carbon footprint than those in less populated areas, according to a study conducted at the Norwegian University of Science and Technology.
Households in populous urban regions are more likely to have a bigger carbon footprint than those in less populated areas, according to a study conducted at the Norwegian University of Science and Technology.

 

The Norwegian University of Science and Technology has produced and published a map depicting the average carbon footprints of households in a total of 177 regions in 27 EU member states.

Finnish households, the map indicates, compare unfavourably to households in most other member states with their average carbon footprint ranging from 13.0–14.3 tonnes of carbon dioxide emissions per capita in eastern and northern parts of the country to over 16.8 tonnes per capita in Uusimaa.

The bloated carbon footprint is primarily a consequence of high housing-related emissions, Diana Ivanova, the first author of the study, says to Helsingin Sanomat. Finland, she tells, has the highest housing-related carbon dioxide emissions in all of Europe.

“It’s our presumption that Finland’s carbon footprint is increased by the small average size of households in the country. Finland had the smallest households in the sample,” says Ivanova.

A map showing the average household carbon footprint for different regions in the European Union. The darker the red colour, the larger the carbon footprint per household. (Graphic: NTNU Industrial Ecology Programme / Environmental Research Letters)
A map showing the average household carbon footprint for different regions in the European Union. The darker the red colour, the larger the carbon footprint per household. (Graphic: NTNU Industrial Ecology Programme / Environmental Research Letters)

 

The study found that housing and transport together accounted for roughly a half of the carbon footprints of Finns. Food production and manufacturing, on the other hand, accounted for a smaller but significant share of the carbon dioxide emissions arising from the production and consumption of products and services in the country.

Another underlying factor is the relatively high use of fossil fuels – namely coal – in Finland, writes Helsingin Sanomat.

The European Union has imposed binding emissions cut targets on its member states. Ivanova points out that new information that expands on national averages is required to ensure the subsequent national climate policies have an actual effect on emissions instead of moving emissions production from one place to another.

“If we started importing cars instead of producing them domestically, there may be a drop in country-wide emissions, but the consumption emissions may stay the same – or even increase, depending on the production efficiency,” she explains in a press release.

Ivanova and her colleagues discovered, rather unsurprisingly, that households in large urban regions have a bigger carbon footprint than those in more sparsely populated rural regions. Households in the higher income quartiles, similarly, tend to produce more emissions than those in the lower income quartiles.

They estimated that earnings alone could account for up to 30 per cent of the carbon emissions of a household.

“Different factors influence the way we consume,” she reminds. “In our study, income appears to explain much of the variation in the regional factors, so essentially if we know how income changes over time, we can hypothesise about how emissions would follow.”

“It makes sense that the richer you are, the greater your purchasing power and the environmental impacts associated with it. And the richer you are, the more you fly and drive,” says Ivanova.

The study sought to determine the impact of different products and services, ranging from cheese to clothing, on the carbon footprint of households across Europe.

One of the findings was that clothing-related emissions – effectively, spending on clothing – were the highest in Italy and in parts of the United Kingdom. Housing-related emissions were the highest in the Åland Islands, Finland, and the lowest in the Canaries, Spain. Emissions arising from food consumption, on the other hand, showed no significant socio-economic differences.

“In short, everyone has to eat, but not everyone has to heat their homes or travel by plane for their summer holidays,” the researchers conclude.

Ivanova believes the approach adopted by her research group will have implications for environmental policy making: “It highlights the drivers of consumption-based emissions and empowers regions to implement viable mitigation strategies.”

Aleksi Teivainen – HT
Photo: Mikko Stig – Lehtikuva

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