We – the human race – currently pump 53 gigatonnes of greenhouse gas into the atmosphere each year. This total mostly comes from burning coal, oil and gas, although clearing forests, agriculture and producing cement also have big roles. So, every time we fire up the central heating, or the car, or the TV, or tuck into a plate of food, or build an extension on our house, or buy new stuff, we are producing an amount of greenhouse gas that contributes to this total.
These greenhouse gases have built up in the atmosphere since the start of the Industrial Revolution, and have heated our world by over 1 degree celsius already, which has started to have consequences for our weather, our daily lives, and our wildlife. The Paris Climate Agreement, signed in 2016 by every government in the world, agreed to limit the amount of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere to keep warming to 1.5 degrees celsius above the average of 1990 global temperatures.
But what does this figure mean to us in our day to day lives? Let’s break down what it means for each of us as individuals.
Human activity is the key
If accept that we are human, and that our daily activities produce greenhouse gas, we can then divide the total amount of gas by the number of people currently on the planet. This is 6.5bn men, women and children in 2017,producing 53 gigatonnes of greenhouse gas. From this we get a global average: 8 tonnes of greenhouse gas per person; enough to produce huge climatic shifts that we would all really struggle to deal with if we continue.
The latest range of target emissions produced by the InterGovernmental Panel on Climate Change put the target global emissions at 25 gigatonnes per year by 2030. This is an average of 4 tonnes per person each year. However, the world population is likely to have increased by 2 billion people in 2030, so we need to take account of that too.
Therefore, we arrive with an average of three tonnes of greenhouse gas for every person on the planet by 2030 if we want to have a realistic chance of limiting the worst effects of climate change.
Possible? Not Possible?
At a first glance, that may look impossible for many of us. The average carbon footprint in the UK is around 14 tonnes per person per year. If you are lucky enough to be wealthy it could easily be double or three times that. However, this is the other point about a three tonne footprint: I believe it to be very achievable. My carbon footprint is currently around 5 tonnes per year. I still have a car, take foreign holidays, eat some meat and dairy in my diet, and I don’t have solar panels or other low carbon technologies at home – yet. The total also includes two tonnes of government infrastructure activity, which, whilst essential to our modern and privileged lifestyles, is also very high and could quite easily be significantly reduced if the political will existed.
Let’s get started then. Better late than never.
(These figures were last updated on 25 Feb 2020)
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