Despite the rapid and significant changes in consumption patterns observed during the first months of the COVID-19 pandemic, Japanese households have maintained their normal levels of greenhouse gas emissions. ‘Anthropause’ – reduction in human activity due to the pandemic – grabbed the headlines last summer, but factory closures and shattered global supply chains have not translated into the adoption of environmentally friendly lifestyles for the average household.
“At the start of the COVID-19 period, we could quickly witness lifestyle changes around us, so we decided to explore the environmental impacts of these lifestyle changes. Other research from this time showed that greenhouse gas emissions on the production side were decreasing, but when assessing emissions on the consumer side, we noticed that they had not changed much. compared to 2015 to 2019 levels, ”said the Yin Long Project Assistant Professor at the Institute for Future Initiatives at the University of Tokyo. Long is the first author of the research recently published in A land.
Experts say that around the world, half of a country’s carbon footprint is due to the consumption of goods and services by individual households. A carbon footprint is a measure of the direct and indirect greenhouse gas emissions associated with the growing, manufacturing and transportation of the food, goods, utilities and services we use.
Researchers in this study looked at around 500 items of consumption and then tracked the carbon emissions embodied in all associated goods and services. Restaurant meals, groceries, clothing, electronics, entertainment, gasoline for vehicles, and home utilities were all included.
“The real beauty of it is the consistency of long-term data collection in these government statistics, even during the COVID-19 period, which allows us to compare it with historical models,” the associate professor said. Alexandros Gasparatos, expert in ecological economics. who led the study. Gasparatos holds a double appointment with the University of Tokyo and the United Nations University in Tokyo.
The monthly carbon footprints of household consumption for the period January to May 2020 were compared to the carbon footprints for the same months of the previous five years. In Japan, COVID-19 diagnoses began to increase in February, and the first national COVID-19 state of emergency was declared from mid-April to mid-May 2020.
The research team’s analyzes revealed that the 2020 carbon footprint of all households, both aggregated and across different age groups, remained well within the range from 2015 to 2019.
The carbon footprint of emissions associated with restaurant meals decreased during the state of emergency, but emissions from grocery shopping increased, especially due to the purchase of more meat, eggs and produce dairy. Emissions associated with clothing and entertainment declined sharply during the state of emergency, but rebounded rapidly after the emergency measure ended.
“This type of natural experience tells us that the very rapid and consistent change in lifestyle during the early stages of the COVID-19 pandemic did not materialize into significant and lasting changes in the carbon footprint of households. “said Gasparatos.
Non-binding state of emergency declarations by national and local governments in Japan have called for people to limit social gatherings, group meals and non-essential travel between prefectures. Compared to legally enforced lockdowns in other countries, the researchers say Japan’s minimum impositions are likely a better model of the lifestyle changes environmentally conscious households could voluntarily make.
“If we view lifestyle change as a strategy to achieve decarbonization, our results suggest that it may not automatically translate into environmental benefits.” This will require a lot of effort and public education focused on the requirements of the most emitting households, such as private car use, and space and water heating, ”Gasparatos said.
“We have seen factories shut down when COVID-19 hit, but consumer demand has remained the same, so factories have reopened to meet those demands. As stated in the Sustainable Development Goals of United Nations, consumers and producers should share the responsibility of achieving sustainable lifestyles, ”says Long.