Water, Air Pollution and Carbon Footprints of Luxury Consumption in India
May 22, 2024

Why in News? A recent study - ‘Water, air pollution and carbon footprints of conspicuous/luxury consumption in India’ - highlights the environmental impact of affluent individuals.

What’s in Today’s Article?

  • Need for the Study
  • What the Study Examines?
  • What is the Methodology of the Study?
  • Key Findings of the Study
  • What are the Implications of the Findings of the Study and Way Forward?

Need for the Study:

  • While climate change is a global concern, issues such as water scarcity and air pollution are often localised or regionalised.
  • For instance, excessive water use in one region might not have a direct impact on water scarcity in another.
  • It is imperative to prioritise local environmental concerns, which raises the significance of comprehending the environmental footprints of households.

What the Study Examines?

  • It especially looks at the carbon, water, and particulate matter (PM2.5) footprints linked to the choices Indian households (across a range of income levels) make about luxury consumption.
    • The luxury consumption basket includes various categories such as dining out, vacations, furniture, social events, etc.
  • The analysis compares these luxury consumption footprints with those associated with non-luxury consumption.

What is the Methodology of the Study?

  • The study employed an input/output analysis encompassing the entire economy to establish a connection between various aspects of household consumption and the resources required for their manufacturing.
  • This methodology facilitated the identification and consolidation of the environmental impacts linked to every phase of manufacturing.
  • For example,
    • The water footprint was utilised to quantify water usage throughout various stages of production of different goods and services, as well as direct water usage by households.
    • The PM2.5 footprint included direct emissions from household activities such as the use of fuelwood, kerosene, and vehicular fuels.
    • Similarly, the CO2 footprint was used to capture both embedded and direct CO2 emissions associated with household consumption.

Key Findings of the Study:

  • Increase in all three environmental footprints:
    • As households move from poorer to richer economic classes all 3 environmental footprints increase.
    • The footprints of the wealthiest 10% of households are around twice as large as the population's average.
    • This suggests that the wealthiest segment exhibits substantial increases in consumption-related environmental footprints primarily due to increased expenditure on luxury consumption items.
  • Key contributors to the rise in the environmental footprints:
    • Eating out/restaurants are a significant contributor to the rise in environmental footprints across all three footprints.
    • Fruits and nuts intake is cited as a contributing reason to the rise in water footprint.
    • Eating out, jewellery, and personal goods are luxury consumption products that increase the carbon and air pollution footprint.
  • Other findings:
    • Although switching from biomass to LPG lowers direct footprints, affluent lifestyle choices increase PM2.5 footprints, which in turn increases the CO2 footprint.
    • The top decile in India has an average yearly CO2 footprint of 6.7 tonnes per person, which is more than the 1.9 tonnes CO2eq/cap needed to meet the 1.5°C target set by the Paris Agreement.

What are the Implications of the Findings of the Study and Way Forward?

  • The local and regional environmental issues exacerbated by luxury consumption disproportionately affect marginalised communities.
  • This emphasises how crucial multi-footprint analysis is to resolving environmental justice issues and guaranteeing fair sustainability initiatives.
  • Since the aspirations of a wider society are influenced by the lives of the elite, policymakers should prioritise efforts to nudge consumption levels of affluent households downwards to align with sustainability goals.