Climate change driven by greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions is increasingly affecting the entire world. Nowadays, tackling climate change is at the top of global agenda. The target set in the Paris Agreement by the Intergovernmental Panel for Climate Change (IPCC) is to limit global warming to 2.0°C, preferably to 1.5°C, above the pre-industrial level. However, the global average temperature has already risen by 1.2°C so far.
Greenhouse gases can be emitted from fossil fuel (coal, oil, and natural gas) usage in electricity, transportation, construction, production or consumption of food and goods, and in our daily lives. Human activities are a major cause of greenhouse gas emissions. Therefore, everyone has a responsibility to cut down his or her carbon footprint – the total amount of carbon-containing gases, including carbon dioxide (CO2) and methane (CH4), that are generated by an individual – in daily life activities.
Globally, the average annual carbon footprint was about 6.5 tons CO2e per capita in 2019. In some developed countries such as the USA, the average carbon footprint for a citizen was up to 16 tons CO2e per year. According to the IPCC, a 45% reduction in global CO2 emissions is required to meet the temperature goal of 1.5°C, and a 25% reduction is needed to stay below 2.0°C of global warming. This means that the average annual carbon footprint per capita need to be reduced to 3.5 tons CO2e per year preferably.
Following is a compiled list of the most achievable ways an individual can make to mitigate climate change through using less energy and reducing personal carbon footprint. By reducing personal GHG emissions, you not only contribute to mitigating climate change but also save your bills or money.
Ways to reduce personal GHG emissions
- Reduce your road transportation emissions
Transportation accounts for one-quarter of GHG emissions in developed countries. Cars are a major source of personal GHG emissions. Cutting down emissions caused by cars is one of the most effective actions an individual could take to reduce personal carbon footprint. The best way is to drive less and to take public transportation or ride a bicycle instead. Other options include switching your car to an electric vehicle and car-sharing. Getting rid of your car can reduce 2.5 tons of CO2 per year in industrialized countries.
2. Take flights less
Globally, aviation accounts for around 2.5% of CO2 emissions. Together with water vapor and other gases produced by aircraft, the aviation industry is responsible for 5% of global warming. On average, each UK resident’s carbon footprint on aviation is 1.80 tons of CO2 emissions per year. Thus, to avoid air travel is an effective way to reduce personal carbon footprint. You can use trains instead of planes. At best, you may consider using video conferencing for working duties and taking holiday in local destinations instead.
3. Reduce your energy use at home and workplace
Another strategy for reducing personal carbon footprint is to reduce your energy use at home and workplace. A common way is to use less air conditioning or heating. It is reported that setting the thermostat just 2 degrees lower in winter and higher in summer could save about 1 ton of CO2 each year. Other options include using more energy efficient appliances or electronics, turning off lights and appliances when you don’t need them, and installing a smart thermostat.
4. Cut consumption and minimize waste
Given that everything we buy or use as consumers has a carbon footprint, either in the process it is produced or in the way it is transported, it is a good option to reduce your carbon footprint through reducing (cutting consumption), reusing (using reusable items rather than disposing them), recycling (recycling the disposable items after use), and refusing (avoiding single-use items and fast fashion, trying not to buy more than you need).
5. Protect and produce green spaces
Green spaces such as gardens and local parks are important because they can absorb carbon dioxide and help to reduce carbon footprint. Thus, it is important to protect and conserve green spaces. You can also create your own green space, e.g., add pot plants to your windowsill or balcony, and/or plant one or more trees in your yard.
6. Eat less meat and dairy
It is reported that food industry, in particular the meat and dairy sector, is one of the most important contributors to climate change, just after fossil fuel. About 18% of methane pollution comes from food scraps. Therefore, eating less meat and dairy products is one of the best ways to reduce our personal carbon footprint. Other ways we can make our diet more climate-friendly include buying food with less packaging and don’t wasting food.
7. Have fewer children
Population growth or overpopulation is a key factor underlying increased fossil fuel usage and CO2 emissions. It is reported that a 1% increase in population is associated with a 1.28% increase in annual CO2 emissions. Therefore, having fewer children is one of the best ways to reduce energy usage and GHG emissions. For couples at reproductive ages, it is best to have one less child and limit reproduction to replacement level at most.
8. Get politically active and vote.
To reduce GHG emissions and mitigate climate warming, organizational actions and public policy play a vital role. Individuals need to exercise their rights both as consumers and as citizens, putting pressure on governments and companies to make the system-wide changes. You can engage in political advocacy around issues of climate change, and make your voice heard by those in power. It is also important to vote for leaders at all levels of government who take climate change seriously.