A quick way to get an idea of the size of the average UK individual carbon footprint is to look at the Guardian’s quick carbon calculator. It shows the average UK individual carbon footprint as 15.42 tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent (CO2e) a year. (Since the publication of this carbon calculator, the average individual carbon footprint has risen to 16.28 tonnes of CO2e. Info source: Demanding less:why we need a new politics of energy, Green Alliance, 2011)
However, these are only average figures. Recent research by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation has shown that carbon emissions from household energy use and from travel vary directly with household income – for example, households in the top 10% of earners produce almost twice as much household and transport related carbon emissions as households in the bottom 10% of incomes.
(Carbon infographic from Joseph Rowntree Foundation website)
Source – Demanding less:why we need a new politics of energy, Green Alliance, 2011
Reducing your carbon emissions from activities covered by the EU Emissions Trading Scheme simply allows polluting companies to increase their GHG emissions
The existence of the ‘cap and trade’ EU Emissions Trading Scheme (ETS) means that individual efforts to reduce carbon emissions by using energy efficient lightbulbs and appliances or by taking part in renewable energy schemes are ineffective. This is because energy companies are part of the EU ETS, which subjects emissions from the energy sector to an overall cap. So if households/businesses reduce their energy use and energy-related carbon emissions, this makes it possible for polluting energy companies to buy permits to increase their emissions by the amount that that households/businesses have saved.
According to Grischa Perino, senior lecturer in economics at the University of East Anglia, individuals who want to reduce carbon emissions have a few options:
- focus efforts to reduce GHGs on sectors the EU ETS doesn’t cover, such as agriculture (eating less meat), domestic heating and road transport.
- buy and retire EU ETS permits which removes them from the system and reduces total emissions by regulated sources.
- use the political process to lobby for EU ETS reform.
Political reform of the EU Emissions Trading Scheme
Perino advises that EU ETS reform measures could include:
“…substantially reduce the number of permits available. This could happen as a one-off intervention or in the form of a rule linking the number of permits to their price, reducing permits as the price drops and issuing new ones if it rises again.
Another option is to, at least temporarily, transform the EU ETS into a carbon tax. This would render individuals’ and governments’ reduction efforts effective. It can be achieved by imposing a minimum price on permits sold in EU ETS auctions that is above their current market price. The cap would no longer be binding, GHG emissions in EU ETS sectors would drop and efforts by consumers and governments would be able to reduce it further.”
Ways of reducing business/organisation/household/personal carbon footprint
Although there are many reservations about the effectiveness of individual actions to reduce carbon emissions, Government and green organisations suggest that people can reduce their individual and household carbon emissions in various ways:
- switch to renewable energy
- use less energy in homes and other buildings
- reduce use of goods and services with a high carbon footprint – for instance, the average UK individual carbon footprint for leisure and recreation is around 1.95 tonnes
- avoid waste – and turn off appliances, don’t leave them on standby- new research shows that on average, 20% of household electricity bills is the cost of appliances left on standby
- change the ways we use transport, eg use a walking bus for children to get to school
- buy more locally produced goods and services
- eat a lower carbon diet - eg less beef, mutton/lamb and dairy (cud- chewing animals produce a lot of methane which is a worse greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide – the graphic below shows that meat & dairy contribute 51% of food-related greenhouse gas emissions)
- save money in ethical banks or financial products so your savings aren’t going into investments that create a lot of carbon emissions