Should You Be Thinking about Your Personal Carbon Budget?
What is a carbon footprint? Is it important to monitor your own carbon emissions? As individuals, how can we contribute to ensuring sustainable and responsible tourism?
With the infographics, statistics, and research about climate change it’s easy to get overwhelmed. But wherever you are on the spectrum of understanding, you can be part of the solution.
Take the first step and learn what sustainable habits you can shift to.
What’s a Carbon Budget?
The World Resources Institute defines carbon budget as the ‘amount of carbon dioxide emissions we can emit while still having a likely chance of limiting global temperature rise to 2°C above pre-industrial levels.’
The latest International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report sheds light on what we will face if these increases come about. Our planet will endure more storms like forest fires, hurricanes, and droughts of increasing intensity.
Basically, for our planet to remain below this threshold the world has a set amount of carbon emissions left to expend. Our global carbon budget stands at 750 billion tonnes of CO₂ until 2050, and if we divide up this amount of carbon emissions equally between every person on earth (a projected 8.2 million), each individual is limited to 2.3 tonnes/year.
Currently the (global) average person produces 4.5 metric tons of carbon dioxide annually.
Global Carbon Emissions Country by Country
Two factors are responsible for any nation’s carbon emissions: population size and economic strength.
G20 countries have disproportionate control over the greenhouse gas emissions that enter our atmosphere. People in these nations are capable of creating a bigger impact when making individual decisions.
In the early 2000’s China surpassed the United States in amount of greenhouse gases it emitted into the atmosphere. Since then researchers have started talking about emissions output on an individual level as well as a national one.
Emerging economies like China and India are responsible for greatest rise in absolute CO₂ emissions in 2018, going up 4.7% and 6.3% respectively. But both India and China have lower emissions per capita than the United States.
The United States is the second largest producer of carbon emissions behind China, with a glaringly disproportionate output per capita. According to the G20 Brown to Green Report every American emits an average of 20 metric tonnes annually. Of the G20 group, they are one of the highest emitters surpassed only by Saudi Arabia, Australia, and Canada.
- Canada is at 22 tonnes/person due high carbon expenditures in power, heat, and transport
- India emits only 2.2 tonnes/person
- France emits 5.7 tonnes/person due to the country’s reliance on nuclear power
The G20’s energy sector is responsible for the highest amount of greenhouse gas emissions.
Of these countries France and Mexico have low levels of energy-related CO₂ per capita by lowering their CO₂ emissions over the past five years.
CO₂ Emissions per Capita from Energy Only
Why Does Your Personal Carbon Budget Matter?
Remember that calculation we made above that allotted 2.3 tonnes of CO₂ to every person?
Well, this Enerdata graph reminds us how people currently live and how imperative it is we commit to more sustainable livelihoods.
But is the onus on us to take individual action? As the graph above shows, if you’re a person living in a G20 country you buy into fossil-based energy all the time. Oil, gas, and coal companies produce a set amount of carbon emissions when extracting these resources.
And as consumers we produce the rest from cars, airplanes, electricity, and shipping lines.
True, companies are responsible for these emissions and our G20 countries need to take greater action against them. But as individuals agitate globally for structural change we can also take charge of our own individual consumer choices and invest in the carbon economy.
Climate change is overwhelming to think of on an individual level. Tackle this feeling by making small changes to your daily habits. It often leads to a better quality of life for you and the planet.
Your personal carbon budget is calculated by combining personal emissions from housing, travel, eating, and utilizing services. Living, in short.
But how can you quantify this? What does a 2.3 tonne CO₂ lifestyle look like?
- Housing: 1.04 t = 1500 kWh of electricity
- Commute: 1.0 t = 3000 kilometers driving at 7.8 L / 100 km
- Food: 0.28 t = low-carbon (no meat) diet
As an additional comparison:
- Airplane trip: 4.3 t (adjusted for warming effects) = 1 round-trip US – Europe (e.g. Atlanta – Munich)
Get creative with how you conserve your CO₂. Play around with this CO₂ emissions calculator and reduce your carbon footprint to suit your geographic, dietary, and financial needs. Managing your carbon footprint begins with creating a personal carbon budget and setting targets to reduce it.
Where We Stand: Both Individual and Structural Changes Matter
We’ve reached a 1.1°C increase in global average temperature since pre-Industrial times and only have a small buffer of 0.4°C before we cross the lower end of our target limit.
As of 2011 we burned through 52 percent of our carbon budget, which the international scientific community estimates to be 1 trillion tonnes of carbon (1,000 PgC).
The greenhouse gases we emit today, particularly carbon dioxide, stay in the atmosphere for hundreds of years! This very long emission removal process means there will be a delay between the warming cause and the final impact. Below are anticipated impacts of spending the first half of our carbon budget.
- Global sea level rise, heavy precipitation and hurricanes that can cause significant flooding
- Increase in wild-scale forest fires
- Longer more intense droughts
Intensification of these storms and their increasing frequency are a direct consequence of climate change. Our planet’s global temperatures are warmer than most of the past 11,000 years and we’re running out of time.
Why Responsible Travelling Outweighs Other Changes
Though flights have a negative impact on the environment, and produce an outsized carbon footprint for each passenger aboard, more people are taking planes than ever before.
It is well known in the aerospace industry that it will take forever for sustainable designs to be introduced. It’ll take even longer for sustainable aircraft to replace all those flying today.
This is why the only feasible solution is to switch to cleaner aviation fuels. They reduce direct emissions by up to 80% compared to fossil based fuels, measured on a life cycle assessment.
The 20% of emissions left contribute to production and refinement of those cleaner fuels. These fuels reduce environmental impact while also supporting demand for cleaner fuels.
Have your cake and eat it too. Lessen your carbon budget when you travel.