The potential of behavioural change for climate change mitigation: a case study for the European Union

  • Dirk-Jan van de VenEmail author
  • Mikel González-Eguino
  • Iñaki Arto
Original Article


Mainstream literature on climate change concentrates overwhelmingly on technological solutions for this global long-term problem, while a change towards climate-friendly behaviour could play a role in emission reduction and has received little attention. This paper focuses on the potential climate mitigation by behavioural change in the European Union (EU) covering many behavioural options in food, mobility and housing demand which do not require any personal up-front investment. We use the Global Change Assessment Model (GCAM), capturing both their direct and indirect implications in terms of greenhouse gas emissions. Our results indicate that modest to rigorous behavioural change could reduce per capita footprint emissions by 6 to 16%, out of which one fourth will take place outside the EU, predominantly by reducing land use change. The domestic emission savings would contribute to reduce the costs of achieving the internationally agreed climate goal of the EU by 13.5 to 30%. Moreover, many of these options would also yield co-benefits such as monetary savings, positive health impacts or animal wellbeing. These results imply the need for policymakers to focus on climate education and awareness programs more seriously and strategically, making use of the multiple co-benefits related with adopting pro-environmental behaviour. Apart from that, the relevance of behavioural change in climate change mitigation implies that policy-informing models on climate change should include behavioural change as a complement or partial alternative to technological change.


Climate change Mitigation Behavioural change Diet change Mobility Land-use change Waste recycling Policy costs Footprint emissions 



The authors thank Hector Pollitt and Francis Johnson for valuable comments and Ed Dearnley for a language check. This study received funding from the European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme under grant agreement no. 642260 (TRANSrisk project). Mikel González-Eguino and Iñaki Arto acknowledge financial support from the Ministry of Economy and Competitiveness of Spain (ECO2015-68023) and the Basque Government (IT-799-13). All data and model outputs of this article are available upon request to Dirk-Jan van de Ven (

Compliance with ethical standards

Conflict of Interest

The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.


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© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2017

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Basque Centre for Climate Change (BC3)LeioaSpain
  2. 2.University of the Basque Country (UPV/EHU)LeioaSpain

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