The Eighth Environment Action Programme calls for the EU to significantly reduce by 2030 its consumption footprint, i.e. the environmental and climate impacts that result from EU citizens’ consumption. This footprint decreased only slightly, by around 4%, between 2010 and 2020. Therefore, at present, it is uncertain if the EU will achieve a significant reduction in its consumption footprint, especially since it has increased since 2016. Major efforts are needed to both reduce the overall level of consumption and increase the use of products that have less impact on the climate and environment.

Figure 1. Europe’s consumption footprint from 2010 to 2020

Europe’s consumption footprint from 2010 to 2020

The EU’s Eighth Environment Action Programme (8th EAP) calls for a significant reduction in the EU’s consumption footprint, to bring it within planetary boundaries. The consumption footprint refers to the environmental and climate impacts resulting from the consumption by EU citizens of goods and services, whether produced within or outside the EU. To monitor the EU’s consumption footprint, this indicator uses a single score that represents all types of impacts on the environment and climate caused by consumption of goods and services by EU citizens. Overall, the EU’s consumption footprint is considered high, as it exceeds the planetary boundaries for several types of impact, such as impacts on climate change and land use. In the period 2010-2020, it decreased slightly, by around 4%. However, this overall trend resulted from a substantial decrease between 2010 and 2016 (-14%) followed by an increase between 2016 and 2020 (+11%).

The economic sectors mining and quarrying (encompassing all activities used to extract and process raw materials), agriculture and manufacturing together account for about 80% of the total footprint score. All sectoral footprints decreased between 2010 and 2020, except for the footprints for agriculture and manufacturing, and all decreased between 2010 and 2016 then increased from 2016.

Given the relatively small overall reduction in the consumption footprint in the last decade and the fact that the footprint has in fact increased since 2016, the EU faces a significant challenge in achieving its aim of significantly reducing the consumption footprint by 2030. At present, it is unclear whether this aim will be achievable.

To reduce the consumption footprint, the EU would need to make significant efforts to reduce its overall consumption of goods and services or to shift to the consumption of goods and services that have a lower impact on the environment, or both. In general, consuming services has less of an impact on the environment than consuming physical products. Therefore, promoting circular business models based on sharing or product-as-a-service schemes could help to reduce the consumption footprint.

Figure 2. Consumption footprints for EU countries in 2010 and 2020

Consumption footprints for EU countries in 2010 and 2020

The consumption footprints of the 27 EU Member States vary considerably. In 2020, Luxembourg had the highest footprint, at almost 7 points per capita, and Romania the lowest, at less than 1 point per capita.

Between 2010 and 2020, the consumption footprints of 12 of the 27 EU Member States increased, while those of 15 Member States decreased. In general, changes in the consumption footprints of most countries were relatively minor. Of particular note, however, are Luxembourg and Ireland, with increases of more than 60% between 2010 and 2020. On the other hand, Cyprus, Greece and Italy demonstrated significant reductions in their consumption footprints, of more than 20%.

With the exception of Greece, Italy and Spain, whose gross domestic products (GDPs) declined during this period, the fact that countries have achieved footprint decreases shows that it is possible to reduce a national consumption footprint with a growing economy. In the case of Cyprus, this reduction was particularly notable. These observations suggest that it could be possible for the EU to significantly reduce its consumption footprint by 2030.