After Paris: transitions for sustainable consumption

Dale Southerton, Daniel Welch

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle (Academic Journal)peer-review

50 Citations (Scopus)
381 Downloads (Pure)


Consumption emissions-reduction measures based on an individualized model of consumption, marginal lifestyle changes, and technological innovation alone cannot meet the ambitions of the 2015 Paris Agreement to hold global temperature increases below 2 °C. Radical shifts in the societal organization of consumption and production are urgently required to address the scale of the global challenge. Policy for sustainable consumption must be understood in the context of the urgent need for demand-side emissions reductions to reach critical medium-term targets by 2030. Global sustainability policy has remained chiefly focused on technological innovation. Where consumption is recognized, policy approaches have been dominated by ‘behavior-change’ initiatives that frame the challenge as one of individual choices, usually in the context of markets. Social scientific approaches, by contrast, argue that consumption should be understood as instituted and embedded in wider systems – social, cultural, economic, and material. Escalating levels of environmental impact result from the bundle of goods and services taken for granted as necessities of everyday life by the growing global consumer class. Furthermore, sustainable consumption is fundamentally an issue of inequality. More equitable distribution of consumption-based emissions within and between societies is critical within the context of absolute emission reductions. The policies should address the social organization of consumption and the dynamic trajectories through which sociotechnical change takes place (the coevolution of technical systems and social practices). ‘Policy integration’ regarding sustainable consumption that embraces reflexive governance and radical experimentation engaging with sociotechnical trajectories is critical to meet the ambitious goals of the Paris Agreement.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)31-44
Number of pages14
JournalSustainability: Science, Practice and Policy
Issue number1
Early online date22 Feb 2019
Publication statusPublished - 2019


  • Sustainable
  • consumption
  • Policy
  • Emissions
  • Paris agreement


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