Climate change is in the news almost every day. But, as individuals, what can we do about it, and what does being sustainable look like?
These are questions that more and more people are asking themselves, and we wanted to put together a guide to provide answers.
The time for action is now, and this guide will help you plan what to do and how to do it so you can be part of the solution that is so urgently needed.
Why do citizens need to take urgent action now?
Climate change is accelerating. In 2022 we saw heatwaves in China and Europe, wildfires in the USA, drought in the Horn of Africa, and devastating floods which left one-third of Pakistan underwater, destroying two million homes. Scientists have been clear for many years, but it’s now the case that billions of people can look out the window to see the effects of climate change.
The only way to stop this is by cutting carbon emissions fast. The global target, agreed upon by the UN, is to halve emissions by 2030 and then hit Net Zero (where no additional carbon enters the atmosphere as anything emitted is also removed) by 2050.
However, often it’s difficult for people to translate these big global targets into a goal in their everyday lives.
To cut emissions by 50%, most individuals in the global North (generally the wealthier countries) need to cut a tonne from their carbon footprint every year.
Globally personal carbon footprints are around five tonnes, so to halve emissions, we all need to get to 2.5 tonnes by 2030. However, individuals in wealthy countries tend to have much larger footprints, often around 8-10 tonnes in Europe and up to 15 tonnes in the USA, Canada, and Australia.
And there is real urgency. The 2022 UN Emissions Gap report, which details how the world is doing against the 50% target, highlighted that progress has been poor. We’re currently on track for dangerous 2.5C temperature rises (climate change starts to get out of hand after 1.5C), and we need urgent system-wide transformation starting today.
This means that the time for small steps is over. We need to be making bigger shifts and, as an individual, that means cutting a tonne.
As well as urgency, there is a huge opportunity. Some step to cut a tonne save money, others lead to better health outcomes as we reduce pollution, and still, more will protect nature from the worsening effects of climate change. Many offer business opportunities to provide people with goods and services that don’t harm the planet. A sustainable future is simply a better one.
We’ve put together a guide to cutting a tonne from your personal carbon footprint, and to explain the practical actions individuals can take to be on track with the global goal of halving emissions by 2030.
In this guide we’ll look at ten ways to cut your carbon footprint by a tonne. We’ve got four “collections”, ideas where you can combine lifestyle changes to add up to a tonne, and the “big six” which are large, one-off changes that have a big impact by themselves.
But it’s not all on the individual
In 2022, more and more people have written about the importance of the individual. The UN’s IPCC report on mitigation dedicate a chapter to individual action, and even the final text at COP27 talked about the need for individuals to shift to sustainable lifestyles and consumption which follows from the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals. However, whilst individuals need to cut carbon, solving the climate crisis is not all on them.
Companies need to provide low-carbon goods and service and governments need to set clear, long-term policies that allow people, and organisations, to plan so they can make the transition to a low-carbon economy.
There is no single group that can solve the climate crisis, it’s only by working together that we can tackle the sheer scale of the change that is needed.
The guide though is not just for individuals. It is also for people at companies who see the need to help employees understand climate change and how they can be part of the solutions.
That’s because, at companies around the world, people are asking themselves the same question – how can I help my colleagues cut their carbon footprints to increase awareness and knowledge about sustainability? From green teams to sustainability departments, this guide is also for those people inspiring others to act.
We are all different, but for a typical individual, these changes should help make an important contribution to what we need to do this decade.