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Tracking the pathway towards SDG12 in EU-28: the Consumption Footprint
The deployment of European policy is pushing a transitional pathway towards a more sustainable Europe, with a transformed production and consumption as well as enhanced bio-economy and circular economy strategies. Such pathway will drive Europe to achieving the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goal 12. However, a methodology to quantify and track the environmental impacts of the consumption in EU-28 is key for not only supporting policy design but also monitoring the success of policy implementation. In this context, the European Commission’s Joint Research Centre has been working in defining a life-cycle based method with the goal of accounting for the environmental impacts of consumption of EU-28 Member States. While statistic data are collected to quantify the economic and mass flows taken place in the domestic territory and in the trade with other territories (both imports and exports), the Life Cycle Assessment (LCA) method is applied to estimate the environmental impacts of consumption. The method includes three different indicators that vary on the data collection stage and covers a different range of the consumption. The Consumer Footprint evaluates the household consumption by assessing five Basket of Products (BoPs), i.e. food, mobility, household goods, housing and appliances. The Consumption Footprint bottom-up (CF-BU) covers the entire consumption and uses process-based LCA for the data collection. The Consumption Footprint top-down (CF-TD), also assessing the entire consumption, employs input-output based LCA for collecting the data. Regarding the estimation of impacts, 16 indicators from the Environmental Footprint (EF2017) method are used to assess diverse aspects of the environmental effects of consumption, from climate change to human toxicity. The results of the Consumer Footprint highlighted the role of food as main driver of impacts associated to household consumption. Housing (particularly for space heating) and mobility (especially due to private cars use) also have a significant role in the environmental impacts. At the entire consumption level, EU-28 was observed as a “net importer of environmental impacts” embodied in imported goods, being fuels the main contributor to these impacts. For the period 2000-2014, results showed that the environmental impacts of EU-28 consumption are decoupling from GDP, although decoupling intensity depends on the country and the timeframe considered. Nonetheless, in absolute terms the environmental impacts of EU-28 consumption surpass the safe operating space for humanity of the planetary boundaries framework. The Consumer Footprint allowed the modelling of eco-innovation scenarios to assess potential sustainability measures, as well as potential trade-offs. Further developments of the methodology will focus on improving the coverage of the BoPs, exploring the calculation of planetary boundaries and estimate the impacts of consumption on biodiversity and on marine litter. Moreover, as rebound effects are foreseen as technological improvement could be offset by a sustained increase of the consumption, these should be included in future modelling.