Consumption-based view on national and regional per capita carbon footprint trajectories and planetary pressures-adjusted human development

Sanna Ala-Mantila*, Jukka Heinonen, Jack Clarke, Juudit Ottelin

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Current national greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions accounts and mitigation targets are mostly based on territorial GHG accounting. While several analyses present future trajectories describing how nations could achieve emissions targets, there are relatively few analyses from the consumption-based perspective. Simultaneously, there is a broad literature on consumption-based carbon footprints of individuals and regions, but without connection to the remaining carbon budgets and associated mitigation pathways, nor to the current levels of human development. This study contributes to these debates by downscaling the 1.5-degree target to an individual scale for 152 countries, following the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC’s) shared socioeconomic pathway (SSP1-1.9) pathway. We compare the calculated limits to current carbon footprints and show how the individual carbon budget can be operationalized on a national and regional level using Africa, Europe, and the USA as examples. We show that while GHG emissions in Europe and the USA greatly exceed the budget, in Africa the budget allows even growth in the short and medium term, and the emission cuts later if the remaining carbon budget is equally allocated regardless of the historic emissions. Finally, we modify the planetary pressures adjusted human development index (HDI) with consumption-based carbon footprints to highlight how different accounting principles underscore the uneven development between nations. We find that the average carbon footprint of many highly developed nations is as much as seven times the climate-sustainable limit. Furthermore, these same nations perform poorly when measuring their development level with the consumption-based emissions updated planetary pressures HDI. However, in the majority of nations (80% of the global population) the average carbon footprint is near or below the climate-sustainable level, but not in any of the top HDI countries. Our findings highlight that stronger policy and swift changes are needed to bring the carbon footprints of the residents of affluent countries to a climate-sustainable level.

Original languageEnglish
Article number024035
JournalEnvironmental Research Letters
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 1 Feb 2023

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2023 The Author(s). Published by IOP Publishing Ltd.

Other keywords

  • carbon footprint
  • consumption
  • environmental thresholds
  • human development index
  • input-output analysis, 1.5 degree global warming target
  • planetary boundaries


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