Are there any published academic studies which compare per-capita carbon footprint against discretionary carbon footprint (ie. lifestyle-connected emissions)?

  • per-capita footprint is the result of dividing a country's total emissions by its number of citizens.
  • discretionary carbon footprint is the sum total of lifestyle activities, each calculated on an life cycle analysis (LCA) basis.

The per-capita footprint is likely to be higher than discretionary carbon footprint due to industries outside the direct control of individuals. For example, per-capita footprint assigns each citizen a share of emissions from military activities, but those are outside the power of individuals to change.

But discretionary carbon footprint could also be higher than expected if the country spends a lot of money on imports. For example, if a very rich country was powered entirely by imported electricity (or imported solar panels) then it would have seemingly low emissions on a national basis because the emissions from producing electricity would be accounted for in a different country.

Related keywords: global multi-region input–output, PAS 2070 – A specification for assessing city greenhouse gas emissions, environmentally extended input-output (EEIO) model, Classification of Individual Consumption According to Purpose (COICOP) structure.


I found one study, The role of trade in the greenhouse gas footprints of EU diets, which performs a comparative analysis of consumption-based emissions vs. production-based emissions. It had something pretty interesting to say:

Developed OECD countries continue to displace environmental pressures onto non-OECD countries, which is observable when the accounting is based on consumption instead of the production perspective. In our accounting framework, consumption based accounting increases by more than 40% the EU emissions compared to production based accounting.

There's also the 2018 C40 report on cities which compares consumption-based emissions against production-based. This is a pretty good report with graphics.

Total consumption-based emissions of the 79 C40 cities included in this study are 3.5 GtCO2e (for the reference year 2011). This represents a 60% increase on the 2.2 GtCO2e emissions estimated for the same cities using the GPC (Global Protocol for Community-Scale GHG Emission Inventories), and reflects the difference in GHG emissions embodied in imported and exported goods and services.

It would be great to see similar comparisons for other countries and other industrial sectors.

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