Your carbon footprint revealed: Climate change report finds we each produce 11 tons of carbon a year - and breaks down how we do it
Saturday 09 December 2006
The first piece of research to calculate a carbon footprint for the average British citizen has detailed the precise environmental damage each of us causes.
A study by the government-funded Carbon Trust puts the annual carbon footprint of the average Briton at 10.92 tons of CO2 - roughly half of the 19 tons of CO2 produced each year by the average American. The research also demonstrates that our leisure and recreation pursuits - activities as diverse as watching a football match or taking a trip to the seaside - account for most of our emissions, rather than a lack of insulation or a predilection for 4x4 cars.
The figures are published at a time when the Government is under intense pressure to take firmer action on climate change, with a raft of environmental measures outlined by the Chancellor, Gordon Brown, in his pre-Budget report this week.
The individual impact we make on the climate has tended to be diluted by carbon emission figures generated by the Office of National Statistics which detail emissions at source - electricity production, for example, or primary manufacturing. But the Carbon Trust's figures takes the overall emission figure and, using a University of Surrey model, reallocates them to the point of consumption. The data reveals an annual carbon footprint for each of 11 kinds of consumer need. That is then divided by the size of the population of Britain.
Nearly a fifth of the average British citizen's 10.92 tons of CO2 - 1.95 tons - is emitted through recreation and leisure: everything from holiday trips by car and visiting a gym, which has substantial emissions, a trip to a leisure centre where the swimming pool is heated, watching television and enjoying live evening sport under floodlights.
The importance of minimising carbon emissions from our homes is also reinforced by the figures, which show the average British citizen contributes 1.49 tons of CO2 a year through the heating of his or her home.
In the third category, 1.39 tons of CO2 are generated by food and catering. That includes everything from emissions generated directly by cooking and food use - refrigerating, freezing and cooking - plus the indirect emissions from the production of food and drink products and services. Production includes raw material cultivation, packaging production, manufacturing, distribution, disposal and recycling. Together, the top three categories account for a half of our individual carbon emissions.
Consideration of food miles, use of efficient fridges and rejecting items with too much packaging can help but the message from the Carbon Trust is clear: we are not expected to cut out many or all of these activities, but we can think more broadly about where we might reduce our carbon footprint. "This piece of work is about making people aware that everything they do involves carbon emissions and not just flights and heating their homes," said Euan Murray, strategy manager at the Carbon Trust.
The trust's research reflects the "I Count" ethos of the Stop Climate Chaos organisation, whose rally at Trafalgar Square last month was the biggest environmental protest Britain has seen.
"Cynics are gradually accepting that individual actions can make a different when it comes to tackling climate change," Ashok Sinha, director of Stop Climate Chaos, said yesterday. "We just have to look at the split in terms of the impact of individual actions and those of government."
Though individual actions cannot have the impact that reducing aviation fuel use and power station emissions, the "I Count" campaign's work has been highly effective in communicating knowledge of the inividual emission savings we can make.
For instance, 2kg of carbon can be saved for every journey under three miles for which we walk and don't use the car, while 30kg can be saved by switching the power off at nights in your house and 2,300kg by switching the office to recycled paper.
Fourth in the Carbon Trust's list of personal carbon emissions is " household activities", on which we each emit 1.37 tons a year. That includes lighting, household appliances such as vacuum cleaners and DIY equipment, the electricity used to produce household furnishings and electricity used to create the building itself (from making bricks, to delivering furniture).
We emit a further ton of emissions each year simply by the clothing and footwear we consume. The figure includes emissions from the chemical processes used to manufacture and transport the items, emissions from water heating and wet appliances used in cleaning, drying and pressing clothes
A further 0.81 tons is created by commuting, another category in the data, and 0.68 through aviation. Education accounts for 0.49 tons, including the production of books and newspapers.
The new footprint has been launched after research earlier this year by the Carbon Trust showing that two thirds of consumers are more likely to buy products and services with a low carbon footprint.
The Carbon Trust is working with Walkers, Trinity Mirror, Boots and Marks & Spencer to undertake a carbon audit of their supply chains. But individual actions are only a part of reducing carbon emissions. Inherent in the 'I Count' philosophy is the idea that if individuals take action then Governments will be morally bound to follow suit.
Recreation 1.95 tons
The single largest source of emissions. Researchers analysed CO2 caused by leisure activities plus the production of goods and services. Examples include seaside trips, which create 200kg per person each year, and TV, videos and stereos - another 35kg
Heating 1.49 tons
Second biggest source of CO2 resulting from burning of gas, electricity and oil. It is one of the easiest sectors to reduce, say campaigners. The easiest way is to turn down heating: every extra degree on thermostat accounts for 25kg of CO2 each year
Food 1.39 tons
Generated by cooking, eating and drinking, including food miles and production of raw materials. Includes food transport in UK - equivalent to 300kg per person a year - and driving to supermarkets - another 40kg. A restaurant meal generates 8kg per diner
Household 1.37 tons
This covers non-heating emissions generated in the home from appliances, furnishings and from the construction of the building itself. A fridge is responsible for 140kg of carbon annually, while lighting in a house contributes a further 100kg
Hygiene 1.34 tons
Includes emissions from the NHS and from individuals bathing and washing. Typical examples include taking a bath instead of a shower, which adds 50kg of carbon in energy production, or heating up a house's water, which adds 150kg
Clothing 1.00 tons
Energy and emissions generated in producing, transporting and cleaning clothes and shoes. In a year, the average person will expend 70kg of energy on new clothes, 100kg by using washing machines and
36kg by using tumble dryers, for example.
Commuting 0.81 tons
Travelling to and from the workplace on both public and private transport including aviation. Assuming a journey of three miles undertaken five times a week, the use of a car represents 500kg of energy for the average commuter in a year
Aviation 0.68 tons
The fastest growing source of CO2 emissions, thanks in part to the boom in low-cost air travel. A return flight to Malaga, for example, would represent 400kg of energy per passenger. A short break to Prague would expend 220kg of energy
Education 0.49 tons
These are emissions relating to schools, educational travel, books and newspapers. School buildings, for example, made up 172kg of energy; books accounted for 13.6kg; and the 4x4 school run (1.2 miles five times a week during terms) was 200kg
Phones 0.1 tons
All sources of CO2 emanating from communications including computing. Mobile phone chargers, for example, accounted for between 35 and 70kg per person per year. Sending letters, by contrast, represented only 0.01kg
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