As part of the Horizon 2020 project "EU 1.5°Lifestyles", we are trying to identify necessary structural changes for a transition to lifestyles that fit the 1.5° climate target of the Paris Agreement. Specifically, we are exploring which structural barriers and enablers in the economic, political, technological and societal realm shape household choices and their impacts.
We are currently focusing on seven structures that a systematic review of the international state of the art in research as well as a large number of expert interviews have identified as most impactful. In Stakeholder Thinking Labs conducted in five EU countries and at the EU level, we are inquiring what steps can be taken to reduce the barriers and enhance the enablers to allow a successful transition to 1.5° lifestyles in the EU.
These results show that deep structures underlying and shaping current lifestyles require more attention in the political debate. These structures are broader, less discernible, and more difficult to change compared to more shallow, specific structures, such as concrete policies. Yet, they are extremely impactful.
What are the 7 key structural barriers and enablers of 1.5° lifestyles?
The two images below show the 7 most impactful structures.
Structures 1-3 include the economic growth paradigm, making consistent policies, and overcoming vested interests.
Impactful structures 4-7 include economic incentives and the internalisation of costs in prices, strengthening alternative narratives of the good life, overcoming inequities, and changes in education.
Deep transformation and overcoming barriers to 1.5° lifestyles - deep and shallow structures
The economic growth paradigm was considered the most impactful structure, by far, with experts considering the transformation of the economic and political system to be a key lever for change over shallower technological fixes. These systemic changes, considered crucial by the experts, deeply challenge current power relations. Many necessary lifestyle changes will require overcoming vested interests to ensure adequate financing in the form of subsidies and taxation.
A transformation to a social and economic system that enables 1.5° lifestyles thus involves (1) overcoming inequities at different scales and unequal relations between Global North and South, and, (2) fostering citizen participation and creating lifestyles focused on sufficiency and essential needs for everyone. Importantly, a more just society is not just a side benefit of necessary mitigation measures but indispensable for achieving the 1.5° target.
However, certain structures, particularly those at the global level and deeply embedded in the societal fabric, have been neglected while current debates and efforts to solve the climate crisis are not far-reaching enough. To account for different types of structures, we propose a conceptual distinction between deep and shallow structures.
Some structures can be very specific, for example, policies that determine certain subsidies. Other structures are very broad and fundamental such as capitalism driving the imperative of economic growth. The depth or shallowness of structures is likely to influence the potential for and sustainability impact of change in these structures and on our ability to attribute the responsibility for such change to specific actors. Shallow structures are more specific and visible, have a narrower focus, and it is easier to identify specifically responsible actors able to change them within the current power relations. By contrast, deep structures are broader, less discernible, and more difficult to change, and they potentially cannot be dismantled without changes in existing power relations.
This analytical distinction does not suggest that deep structures cannot be changed, nor that the impact of changes in shallow structures is not worth pursuing (indeed, in the aggregate, shallow structural changes can enact large changes, and indeed can help bring about change in deeper structures). It is nevertheless unlikely that the 1.5° target can be achieved without changes at the deep structural level. Thus, the assessment of structural barriers and enablers entails a warning that the scale and depth of changes required in a rapidly declining time frame must not be underestimated. The strong and concerted effort that is required by various actors to mainstream 1.5° lifestyles must be able to:
- foster strong institutions and effective policies,
- enforce necessary changes to be financed concerning a societal transformation,
- and, prevent or ameliorate expectable backlashes against mitigation policies by vested interest in the status quo and the growth paradigm, against the needs of collective wellbeing.
The exploration of structural barriers and enablers highlights, in turn, that individualised approaches favouring consumer choice and voluntary sustainability targets are not far-reaching enough to enact significant lifestyle changes and achieve the targets of the Paris Agreement. The current problem of structures remaining largely unaddressed in climate mitigation strategies (which rather focus on technological advances and presume future availability and application of negative emissions technologies) has not created a strong enough imperative for policymakers to deliberately intervene in the established societal and economic order, which entails political conflict, or to revise the scale and depth of mitigation efforts beyond individual efforts. Increasing political pressure and a stronger awareness of the need to transform deeper structures are required to enable or oblige policymakers to take necessary action.
How did we get to the list of 7 structures?
After a literature review of over 120 studies, a collated list of over 100 structural barriers and enablers was identified in the first step of the process. The Delphi-ranking method was used to reduce the list, in three rounds, to 22 key barriers and enablers, using the combined knowledge of the project consortia. This initial list showed a range of interconnected barriers, which are embedded in the politico-economic organisation of society, its social relations, political priorities and actors’ valuations. The dominance of these structures exacerbates the lack of understanding of the severity of the crisis and societal visions of low-carbon lifestyles but also favours efficiency improvements over-sufficiency approaches. The latter means that the reliance on growth and technology hampers enablers such as alternative measures of well-being and a good life, or shifts in work-life balance to reduce production and consumption in absolute terms.
The list of 22 key barriers and enablers was then ranked by 36 academic experts and practitioners – including global experts and experts from the 5 case countries. They were tasked with picking out 3-4 key structures from the list, to identify the “most impactful” structures. The economic growth paradigm was considered the most impactful structure, by far, with experts considering the transformation of the economic and political system to be a key lever for change over shallower technological fixes. These systemic changes, considered crucial by the experts, deeply challenge current power relations. Many necessary lifestyle changes will require overcoming vested interests to ensure adequate financing in the form of subsidies and taxation.
Doris Fuchs, Halliki Kreinin WWU Münster
Source of pictures: EU 1.5° Lifestyle consortium partners ©