Eco-Living Magazine

What’s The Average Carbon Footprint in the UK?

Posted on the 05 December 2023 by Ecoexperts @TheEcoExperts
What’s The Average Carbon Footprint in the UK?✔ In the UK, a person's carbon footprint is around six tonnes of GHG per year ✔ Transport accounts for the largest portion of an individual's carbon footprint ✔ The average carbon footprint in the US is twice that of the UK

A person's carbon footprint refers to the amount of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions they're directly and indirectly responsible for.

This means your carbon footprint isn't just measured by how much fuel you burn, but by the emissions created in the production of everything you buy and use.

We'll explain what the average carbon footprint is for a person living in the UK in this article. We'll also look at what contributes the most to a person's carbon footprint, how the UK compares to other countries, and whether the average carbon footprint in the UK is set to decrease.

How has the average carbon footprint in the UK changed over time?

The average carbon footprint in the UK has generally decreased over the past 50 years.

In the 1970s the average carbon footprint in the UK was around 14-15 tonnes of GHG emissions per person (not counting import/exports).

By the 1990s, the average carbon footprint decreased, down to around 12-14 tonnes of GHG emissions per person - around twice what it is today. The biggest contributors by far to overall emissions were electricity and heating, which accounted for over 30%.

Today, transport is the main culprit, accounting for around 28% of all UK emissions.

What are the biggest contributors to our carbon footprint in the UK?

The biggest contributors to our carbon footprint are transport, food production and waste, domestic energy consumption, and consumption of goods and services.

We're basing this breakdown on estimates of emissions per person that include imports and exports, because a large portion of an individual's carbon footprint comes from the consumption of food and goods that are imported from other countries.

1. Transport

Transport is the biggest contributor to the average UK carbon footprint, accounting for a little under 30% of emissions - or around 3.1 tonnes of CO2 equivalent (CO2e) a year, per person.

Regular travel in petrol or diesel cars is the main reason for this - around 68% of Brits use cars as their primary means of commuting.

Air travel is another big contributor. Aviation accounts for around 8% of UK annual emissions, a huge amount for just one sector. Since most people in Britain take around one to two flights a year, there's a good chance you've contributed to this.

Switching from a petrol-powered car to an electric vehicle or reducing the amount of times you take a plane (if you're a frequent flyer) can help reduce your carbon footprint.

2. Food production and food waste

Food-related emissions account for around 25% - or 2.8 tonnes of CO2e - of the average Brit's annual carbon footprint.

This includes emissions from producing and transporting food, as well as food waste.

In the UK alone, agricultural production emits around 45 million tonnes of CO2e. That's not even counting emissions from imported food - and nearly half of food consumed in the UK is imported.

Additionally, food waste in the UK is responsible for around 25 million tonnes of GHG a year, according to WRAP.

We have to eat to live, but there are things you can do to reduce your impact. Being conscious of food miles - the farther food travels, the higher its carbon footprint - can help, as well as limiting food waste.

3. Domestic energy consumption

Domestic energy consumption, including heating and electricity, accounts for a little under 20% of the average person's carbon footprint in the UK. That's the equivalent of roughly 2.2 tonnes of CO2e per year, per person.

Most of the emissions in this category are a result of us heating our homes with fossil fuels - around 74% of UK households use gas-powered heating.

Switching to alternative forms of heating, such as a heat pump or an electric boiler, can help reduce the contribution domestic heating makes to your carbon footprint. Heat pumps, for example, can lower your carbon footprint by roughly 44%.

4. Consumption of goods and services

The last big contributor to a person's carbon footprint in the UK is the consumption of goods or services. It accounts for a little over 15% of a person's annual emissions, or around 1.9 tonnes of CO2e per year.

This includes any products you buy, from clothes to toilet paper, as well as recreational activities and services such as banking.

Obviously, we aren't recommending that you become an ascetic for the sake of the environment.

If you want to reduce your carbon footprint in this area, it's best to be conscious of the environmental impact of the goods you buy, and the companies you give your money to.

Fast fashion, for example, is one of the most polluting industries in the world. Choosing to shop sparingly at fast fashion brands, or avoiding them altogether, can help reduce your carbon footprint.

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