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Consumption-based emission calculation in support of municipal climate work

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2022-10-13 Laura Saikku

Many municipalities in Finland and in the other Nordic countries are increasingly interested in the environmental impact caused by municipalities’ own actions and the consumption of their residents also outside municipal boundaries.

Consumption-based emissions for all Finnish municipalities will be calculated during 2022 by the Finnish Environment Institute. Consumption-based emissions refer to climate emissions (CO2e) that are created throughout the supply chain of goods and services. They include the municipality’s public procurements, investments and the consumption of households. Emissions of imported products created in other regions are added into the consumption-based emissions and emissions of exported products are reduced from them.

In the spring of 2022, we held a workshop where we asked the municipal climate work experts in the Towards carbon neutral municipalities (Hinku) network about their views on the challenges related to reducing emissions of municipal consumption. We also discussed the effects the knowledge on the consumption-based emissions has on the municipal climate work.

New ways and means of communication to engage the stakeholders

Values and attitudes were seen as the biggest general challenge in reducing the emissions from consumption. Municipalities found that changing consumption habits is difficult. In addition, a municipality has little potential to influence the activities of stakeholders outside the municipal organisation.

In any case, local residents, especially young people, should be gotten involved in climate work. Municipal experts felt that a new way of engaging people is needed but blaming was not seen as a good way to influence.

The participants thought that one way to advance the change is to have engaging and sufficiently long-lasting communication campaigns for residents in cooperation with stakeholders and companies. Cost savings and health benefits could also be highlighted on the side of the emission impact of consumption. The interviewed municipal workers saw a need for detailed calculators targeted for consumers. In addition, services are needed for the transmission, compilation and production of information. Communication and easily accessible material for communication were also desired at the national level.

Political backing to support the municipality’s own actions

Several aspects related to the internal functioning of the municipal organisation were raised. The lack of political will was mentioned as one of the challenges in reducing the municipality’s emissions. Politicians should be given the message of the necessity for commitment and action. Training officials and decision-makers was also seen to be important.

Lack of expertise, especially in low-carbon procurements, was seen as a challenge in a few municipalities. The best solutions found for accelerating these procurements were guidance and obligations, as well as procurement guidelines and contracts. It would be good to get service providers closely involved in the municipality’s work.

Not everything can be solved in the municipalities alone. National policy instruments were highlighted as an important tool to make consumption more sustainable in general.

Consumption-based emission calculations as an aid in the planning of municipal climate action and the involvement of municipal residents

To support their work, municipalities need local data, models and tools that can be used to monitor the development of municipal emissions and the effectiveness of the measures taken.

The municipal consumption-based emission calculation provides a more comprehensive picture of municipal emissions as a whole and in certain sectors. For example, emissions from construction and food consumption will be better known. A broader knowledge base on emissions improves planning, targeting and prioritising the municipal climate action. Consumption-based calculations particularly benefit food services, mobility planning, educational and cultural services and procurement activities in the municipal organisation.

Information on consumption-based emissions also provides tools for communication towards residents and other stakeholders. It makes household emissions visible and shows the extent of the global emissions impact.

The work is part of the research project “Sustainable Climate Neutral Nordic Municipalities”, funded by the Nordic Council of Ministers’ Working Group for Climate and Air (NKL). This project aims to synthesize the best practices for how municipalities can work to quantify consumption-based emissions and sinks.

Special Research Scientist Laura Saikku
Finnish Environment Institute SYKE

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