Well-being in sustainable cities: Exploring new paths toward low-carbon futures
Research Project , 2013 – 2017

International agreements at the global level have been widely regarded as the best alternative to successfully manage a reduction of greenhouse gas emissions as it holds the potential to include a large share of global emissions as well as finding a cost-effective solution by means of trade. However, despite some initial success with the establishment of the Kyoto protocol, international negotiations have failed to deliver any substantial cuts in emissions. In fact, between 1990 (the base year of the Kyoto protocol) and 2010, energy-related CO2 emissions continued to grow by 45 percent. Emissions scenarios with at least a likely chance of keeping average global warming below the EU target of a maximum increase in average global temperature of 2 degrees will require reductions of global greenhouse gas emissions at the scale of 50 to 65 percentages between 2010 and 2050. With the need for such a radical transition in mind, there is an urgent need to find new paths for action. The city, with its closeness between planners and the citizens, has emerged as a relevant level of action. Local authorities control some valuable tools such as urban planning, influence over local energy systems, ownership of buildings, and public procurement, but they also lack many regulatory options.

The project is organized around a back-casting process involving researchers from the division of Physical resource theory, PRT, (Chalmers); the department of Sociology (University of Gothenburg); the SOM-Institute, (University of Gothenburg); and practitioners from the City of Gothenburg and Region Västra Götaland. The aim of this process is to identify new opportunities for the city to facilitate action reaching beyond the traditional operating space . Like many other cities, Gothenburg is currently in the process of developing a strategy for reaching the 2-degree target and has decided to adopt a consumption-based perspective on emissions. This is particularly interesting since this approach widens the system boundaries from the emissions occurring within the geographical city limits, to all emissions generated by its inhabitants through private and public consumption. This change of scope may limit the degree to which policy makers can guarantee goal compliance, but it may also create new prospects for action.

The project entails two sub-projects (A and B). In sub-project A, attractive paths for societal change are surveyed, attempting to capture what long-term developments citizens wish for. Is there for example any public support for alternative, ?post-material?, development paths that may be more compatible with transitions toward the 2-degree target than a development along the historical path. Questions with a more direct impact on the relative support for different options of reducing emissions will also be included. For example behavioural change vs. (expensive) technical change, and ranking of the degree to which different types of behavioural changes would be perceived as positive or negative.

In sub-project B we will analyse what lifestyles and practices may combine a high degree of well-being with low GHG emissions. The project utilizes a unique web-service that provides users (individuals) with a clear picture of their GHG emissions from consumption. The web-service (www.evisto.se) employs the users? bank statement together with an algorithm to link purchases in different stores to specific emission intensities. The first time the user logs in to the service, data dating one year back in time is collected and classified automatically, providing the user (and the researchers) with a baseline. The information is presented using different charts to give the user an overview of his/her emissions; track changes over time. Given the detailed information provided by the web-service, it will be possible to study lifestyles and practices through individual consumption patterns. As participants can also be surveyed throughout the project, it is possible to find out how individuals upholding different practices differ in aspects such as values, norms, well-being and other prerequisites, which means that groups with low emission lifestyles and high well-being can be identified and further analysed. This research could hence provide new information on how politicians could encourage sustainable and attractive lifestyles.


John Holmberg (contact)

Full Professor at Chalmers, Space, Earth and Environment, Physical Resource Theory



Project ID: 2013-128
Funding Chalmers participation during 2013–2017

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