Carbon Footprints – measuring emissions and removals separately

Every person in the world has a carbon footprint. Some are large, some are small, some are growing, some are shrinking but what we all have in common is that by 2030 our personal carbon footprints need to be 2.5 tonnes or lower.

Few people in wealthy countries are anywhere near that target and that’s why we bult Giki Zero – to help people understand their footprints and show them the steps they can take to cut carbon month by month, year by year over the coming decade.

However, as 2022 continues to unfold one thing is clear. Emissions are still rising. That’s why we decided to change the way we show carbon footprints in Giki Zero so people will see their emissions without any adjustment for removals from things like tree planting. This will make sure we can all focus on the most important goal – reducing our own carbon footprint by cutting out carbon or switching to lower carbon alternatives.

In this blog we’ll cover how we show carbon footprints currently, what we’re changing and explain why we’ve made the decision to make the change.

What happens currently

Giki Zero provides a science based estimate of carbon footprints based on the five key areas of an individual’s lifestyle which are food, transport, home, purchases and services.

This gives us an estimate for the carbon emissions that an individual is responsible for every year. For individuals who plant trees we also estimate the carbon that will be removed in the next few years from those trees and then show a total which is the emissions minus the removals.

What we’re changing

From April 2022 we’ll still be showing total emissions but not making an adjustment for any removals. We’ll continue to show this separately but if you’re using Giki Zero, and planting trees, your total will go up to show just your emissions.

Why now?

There are three reasons we’ve decided to make this change:

  1. Urgency. By 2030 emissions need to be cut in half but they are still rising. Trees remain the best known solution for removing carbon from the atmosphere but we simply don’t have the time to plant enough of them.

Often when people talk about the carbon that trees can remove it’s calculated for the entire life of the tree which can be two tonnes or more. That would be great if we had until 2070 and beyond to cut emissions. However, in the 8 years we have left until 2030 a newly planted tree will remove under 100kg and, in its first year, just a few kilos. That’s still nature being amazing but with an average carbon footprint of 9 tonnes per person we’d need to all plant 90 trees to remove carbon emissions for just 2022. The year after we’d need even more as the trees would have less time to do their work.

We should all still be planting as many trees as we can if they’re suitable for the local environment and community but to really hit the 2030 target we need to focus on cutting our own emissions.

  • Behaviour. Planting a tree (or lots of them) feels great. But sometimes planting a tree can make people feel that they’ve taken all the action they need to because they’ve “offset” their footprint. This behaviour unfortunately misses the key target which is that we all need to reduce emissions. By separating emissions from removals we want people to keep planting trees but not lose sight of the main goal.

Tree planting also costs money and so provides a way for wealthier people, who typically have large footprints, to offset the carbon from their larger homes, more regular flights and larger cars. Meanwhile this option is not available to the less well off who are often also the most exposed to the effects of climate change.    

  • New standards. At the end of 2021 the Science Based Targets initiative, a global organisation that gets companies to set hard targets for emissions reductions, came up with the world’s first Net Zero standard. This makes clear that companies need to measure emissions and then focus on how they can reduce them. Carbon removal, currently mainly offsets, should only be used for “residual” emissions.

Although Giki Zero estimates personal carbon emissions we’ve based it on leading standards to ensure it’s robust and, as such, we’re now keen to follow the new Net Zero standards and highlight that tree planting is only for the final parts a person cannot cut yet. Note that we’ve never included offsets which are not nature based (e.g. investing in projects to cut carbon) because compensating for our own removals by getting someone else to cut has many challenges not least the fact it misses the main objective – less carbon being emitted. Like planting trees investing in low carbon alternatives and projects is hugely important, but it’s not a substitute for cutting our own emissions.

These changes will be live from April 2022. Head over to Giki Zero now to see what you can do to #ThinkCarbon and Cut Carbon.