Sweden takes the lead in measuring diverse environmental impacts of consumption

Sweden takes the lead in measuring diverse environmental impacts of consumption. A new accounting method could strengthen Sustainable Development Goals followup. A Swedish government-commission study shows how countries can measure progress on sustainable consumption, a priority under the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). A series of papers present the method, headline findings for Sweden, and a wealth of other consumption-related research carried out under the PRINCE project.

Official statistics on the greenhouse gas emissions associated with Swedish consumption will shortly be updated to capture emissions all along the country’s global supply chains. This will be done using a new approach developed in the PRINCE project and written up in a new special section of the Journal of Cleaner Production.

“It is very satisfying to see our research being adopted so quickly as official statistics and becoming a part of Sweden’s statistical system. I hope other countries will take up the challenge,” said Viveka Palm of Statistics Sweden (the national statistical bureau), who led the PRINCE project.

“The PRINCE model allows us to measure a range of global environmental pressures linked to the goods and services consumed in Sweden, and to do it at high enough quality to be used in national statistics,” said Elena Dawkins of Stockholm Environment Institute, who worked on developing the model as part of the PRINCE project.

A new SDG indicator for sustainable consumption?

Viveka Palm is also a co-chair of the Inter-agency and Expert Group on SDG Indicators (IAEG-SDGs), which is tasked with developing global indicators to monitor progress on the SDGs.

The tenth meeting of the IAEG-SDGs will be held from 21 to 24 October 2019 in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. The meeting will discuss how to improve the measurement and global follow up of the SDGs.

The sustainable development agenda calls on countries to ensure sustainable consumption and production. However, on the whole, the consumption-based perspective is missing from the global SDG indicators proposed by the UN.

“In a globalized world, measures of sustainable consumption must take into account environmental pressures linked to imported goods and services,” said Viveka Palm. “The approach we developed in PRINCE can measure how big some of these global impacts are for an individual country, and whether they are rising or falling.

“It would be relatively easy for countries to implement and to update. It is worth exploring as a way to complement the other SDG indicators,” said Palm.

Hotspots

The PRINCE model can also offer rich detail on were impacts are happening along the supply chain, and which consumed product groups they are linked to.

For example, it shows that producing the textiles consumed in Sweden in 2014 led to greenhouse gas emissions equivalent to just 4 tonnes of CO2 (4 tCO2e) in Sweden – but to 815 000 tCO2e in China, 363 000 tCO2e across the EU and 290 000 tCO2e in India, along with at least 10 000 tCO2e in another 27 countries or regions.

“The data underlines the fact that for wealthier countries, simply reducing your domestic greenhouse gas emissions is not enough; to ease pressure on the climate the whole world needs to get off fossil fuels, and that could mean working with producer countries to transform their energy systems too,” said Viveka Palm.

Read more in PRINCE academic papers

The PRINCE project also made methodological advances in the area of consumption-based accounting. A new special section of the Journal of Cleaner Production includes articles presenting the approach in detail along with headline findings and other research under the project. Below is a list of academic papers published by the project.

More about the on SDG Indicators meeting in Addis Ababa

Read publications by the PRINCE project

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