Following the United Nations conference on Climate Change in Bali during December 2007 you would be forgiven for thinking that climate change was something that could only be undertaken on a global scale by governments with worldwide influence. However an individual can affect climate change in a small yet significant way by taking actions to reduce their own Carbon Footprint.
A Carbon Footprint is the measure of an individual's impact on the environment in terms of the amount of greenhouse gases produced, measured in units of Carbon Dioxide (CO2) and consists of two parts:
- the Primary Footprint made up of direct emissions of CO2 from burning fossil fuels, including domestic energy consumption and travel
- the Secondary Footprint of indirect emissions of CO2 associated with the manufacture and breakdown of a range of products in everyday use
An individual's Carbon Footprint can be broken down into the following parts:
Fossil Fuels 15%
Holiday Flights 6%
Household Buildings & Furnishings 9%
Food & Drink 5%
Recreation & Leisure 14%
Private Travel 10%
Clothes & Personal Effects 4%
Financial Services 3%
Public Transport 3%
Carbon In Car Manufacture 7%
Public Services 12%
(The percentages are averages for the UK
and may vary from individual to individual)
The average Carbon Footprint for an individual in the UK is about 9.8 tonnes pa, the worldwide average for an individual is about 4 tonnes pa. 40% of the UK's CO2 emissions are a result of actions taken by individuals. We all need to take responsibility for our personal CO2 emissions and make continued efforts to reduce them wherever possible by reducing waste and being more energy efficient. The worldwide average individual Carbon Footprint needs to be no more than 2 tonnes pa to have any positive effect upon climate change.
To reduce the Primary Footprint an individual should reduce travel by air, use renewable energy as far as possible, utilise public transport if available and car share if practical. Some of these actions are currently more difficult in rural areas than in larger cities.
To reduce the Secondary Footprint consider where goods have been made together with the materials and processes in their manufacture before buying them. Bottled water has probably been imported some distance so will have a carbon footprint from shipping together with emissions from the manufacture of the bottle and its recycling - tap water may be a better option. Look at labels to identify which country food and clothing is from, consider purchasing British or European products. Avoid goods and services, which have unnecessary packaging.
The Internet provides a number of Carbon Footprint Online Calculators. These Online Calculators use a methodology as described in the Government's "Act On CO2" calculator which estimates individual's Carbon Footprint based on a range of information either supplied by the individual or from a set of default values. Completing the calculation involves simply entering answers to simple questions in boxes covering the 12 aspects in the Carbon Footprint breakdown above. It's worth having your domestic bills to hand. Use the "Act On CO2" calculator available from the DEFRA website.
The Energy Saving Trust provides a number of recommendations that should reduce an individual's carbon footprint which are included in the final phase of the calculator. The individual can choose to adopt these recommendations or not as they see fit, revisiting the calculator later to see if their carbon footprint has been reduced as a result of any recommendations adopted.
As an individual you can do things now that will begin to reduce your Carbon Footprint and cost no money:
- Turn off electrical appliances when not in use (lights, TV, DVD, Computer, etc)
- Turn down the central heating and water heating by 2 or 3 degrees
- Check the central heating setting, there's no point heating an empty house
- Fill dishwashers and washing machines with a full load
- Fill the kettle with only as much water as is needed
- Unplug your mobile phone charger as soon as it has finished charging
- Defrost your fridger/freezer regularly
- Do your weekly shopping in one trip
- Hang out washing rather than tumble drying it
- Join the Hinstock Runners rather than drive to the Gym