What is a carbon footprint?

Your carbon footprint is how much carbon is released into the atmosphere as a result of your everyday activities. Carbon emissions - in the form of carbon dioxide and methane - are what cause global warming and climate change.

Unless you drive a car that runs on petrol or diesel, you might not think that you emit any carbon. But if you get your energy from a supplier that doesn't use renewable sources, you will be creating carbon emissions every time you turn on the lights or your TV. The vast majority of homes in the UK are also heated using gas-fired boilers or have gas stoves for cooking, which release carbon dioxide.

Your food choices also impact your personal carbon footprint. For example, if you buy fruit that has been shipped from overseas, the carbon emitted on that journey will add to your footprint. Similarly, if you travel by flying or driving, you will contribute more carbon emissions than if you ride a bike or use public transport.

The USA has one of the highest average carbon footprints in the world, at a rate of about 16 tonnes of carbon released per person per year in 2019. In the same year, the figure for the UK was nearly 5.5 tonnes per person, with the global average sitting at around 4.7 tonnes. To avoid global temperatures rising by much more than 1.5°C, carbon emissions, and therefore carbon footprints, need to drop to zero by 2050.

Carbon footprints don't only apply to people - they can be calculated for companies, events, places and products. Alyssa Gilbert, Director of Policy and Translation at the Grantham Institute, Imperial College London, says, 'While we can all do more to reduce our own carbon footprint, we should also put pressure on companies and those in power that have an even bigger capacity to make changes and reduce carbon emissions.'

A variety of organisations have created carbon footprint calculators to help you estimate your personal impact on the planet. Check out this useful list of calculators.

Explore ways you can help the planet, including reducing your carbon footprint.

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