More consumption, less production: the low-carbon illusion of cities

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapterScientificpeer-review


Research units

  • University of Iceland


This chapter presents an assessment of the consumption-based carbon footprints (CFs) in Iceland using an input-output based hybrid life cycle assessment method, including all private consumption and both direct and indirect emissions. Moreover, we compare the CFs in different types of settlements to test the “low-carbon illusion of cities” hypothesis. In territorial assessment schemes, highly urbanized areas are often reported as low-carbon areas in comparison to country averages or regional averages, but at the same time they are the key centers for consumption and actually just outsource/externalize the emissions they or their residents emit. Therefore, while cities often show reduced transport related emissions compared to less urbanized areas, the emissions from other forms of consumption typically increase and the overall CF can be greater in the densest settlements. What we found is that the CFs are the highest in the most highly urbanized areas and somewhat lower in more rural areas. Especially indirect emissions from services are significantly greater in urbanized and more affluent areas. With transport, the results also align with the hypothesis that higher population density reduces private driving, but as in several earlier studies, when all transportation related emissions are accounted for, the advantage of density is greatly reduced or disappears. Consumption power is the strongest driving factor of CFs, and affluence tends to increase in cities in comparison to less urbanized areas. Thus, when
controlling for consumption expenditure, slight negative connection between density and CFs is found.


Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationSustainable consumption, promise or myth? Case studies from the field
EditorsJean Léon Boucher, Jukka Heinonen
Publication statusPublished - 1 May 2019
MoE publication typeA3 Part of a book or another research book

ID: 33286699