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Sticks and carrots: what should governments do for radical lifestyle change?


New research in five EU countries reveals stakeholders’ views on what is needed to enable a shift towards 1.5° C-compatible lifestyles.

Bans and taxes for unsustainable behaviour and outcomes, positive incentives for low-carbon attitudes, and better public funding for basic services, are seen as essential climate policies to overcome current barriers to action at the household level - according to the research project EU 1.5° Lifestyles.

This analysis is built on previous work by the same project, which highlighted the seven most impactful barriers and enablers of 1.5° lifestyles, including the “economic growth paradigm”, the “systematic influence of vested interests”, and “inequity”.

Through five participatory Stakeholder Thinking Labs in Germany, Hungary, Latvia, Spain and Sweden, representatives from business, policymaking, media, civil society, think tanks and academia were asked how to overcome or strengthen the deep societal structures, which have inhibited action on the multiple environmental crises until now.

Taxes and bans were by far the most popular steps considered by the participants, including bans or heavy taxes on aviation, bans on driving in inner cities or districts, bans or taxes on sugar and other foods, as well as bans or taxes on other unwanted or unsustainable consumption behaviours, amongst others.

This shows, perhaps, that such strong interventions are more acceptable amongst stakeholders than typically considered in the political realm, where such suggestions would be met with doubts regarding the feasibility of their adoption and implementation”, considers Doris Fuchs, project coordinator and Professor at the University of Münster.

The labs were designed around a Climate Puzzle and a backcasting method, to elicit original and out-of-the-box thinking. Participants were encouraged to think back from an imagined, positive, 1.5°-lifestyle future in 2040, assessing which steps were taken to change each of the 7 key structures, within multiple policy levels (locally, at the state level, and the supra-national level) and in terms of short, medium and long-term governance timeframes.

“A key question across the workshops was how to overcome a narrow, silo-focus in policymaking, seeing consumption across multiple fields as a whole”, adds Professor Doris Fuchs, noting that “planning and public policy that considers multiple needs at the same time (like housing, mobility, nutrition, and leisure) can ensure a more sustainable and fair outcome across consumption fields”.

The outcomes of the first round of Stakeholder Thinking Labs will provide inputs for upcoming research in the scope of the EU 1.5° Lifestyles project, including a second round of Citizen Thinking Labs, an EU-level policy Stakeholder Thinking Lab, a second round of Stakeholder Thinking Labs, and ongoing work on business models and the welfare state.

All project reports and outputs are available here.