04 May Carbon footprint : what is it?
Environmental issues are now an important part of the public discourse. Indeed, the environmental emergency has introduced in our lives a whole vocabulary : « greenhouse gas », « climate change », « carbon footprint »… Yet, does knowing these notions mean you understand them?
Let’s focus on carbon footprint, which has an important role in reaching the Paris agreements (COP21) goals.
What is the carbon footprint ?
The notion of carbon footprint calculates the impact that human activities have on the environment, and more precisely the greenhouse gas emitted by these activities. This notion is often confused with the ecological footprint, which calculates the impact of a person, or community, on the environment. It is expressed as the amount of land required to sustain their use of natural resources.
On the one hand, the ecological footprint is represented as the amount of Planet Earth necessary to maintain our lifestyles. For example : if we all had the lifestyle of an average American citizen (USA), we would need 5 Planets Earth to feed, dress, and accommodate ourselves (1).
On the other hand, carbon footprints can be calculated on an individual scale, as well as for companies or territories.
Although many calculators of carbon footprints exist, it is not possible to know our exact carbon footprint. To do so, we would need to know precisely the origin of every product we use, what materials and energies were used to produce it, the energy mix of the producing country… In a nutshell, it is a very complicated exercise ! Then, why bother calculating carbon footprints ?
The main utility of the carbon footprint is to give an order of magnitude, and to inform on major causes of pollution. For example, the main sources of pollution of French households in 2022 (2) are :
– Goods and services
In January 2022, the average carbon footprint of French households was estimated at 9.9t CO2 eq (3). This result is way too high in comparison with the goals set by the Paris agreements (COP21), where the French Government committed to achieve carbon neutrality by 2050 and to limit global warming to no more than 2°C above pre-industrial levels.
According to Carbone 4, we must limit our carbon footprint to 2t CO2 eq per individual and per year if we want to meet these goals (4).
In order to take action for the environment by reducing your carbon footprint, you firstly have to know your individual level of emission.
To do so, you can rely on many calculators available online and free of charge. Among the most complete ones in France, we find “Nos gestes climats” (5), developed by the environmental agency “ADEME” (6) .
In order to help citizens and local communities’ ecological transition, non-profit organizations have a major role to play, by creating connections between different stakeholders (citizens, non-profit organizations, local authorities, private companies…), offering opportunities for action, and developing tools, such as the calculator created by the GoodPlanet Fondation (7).
Unsurprisingly, those calculators highlight a correlation between the standard of living and the level of pollution generated by households : in France, households with the highest incomes tend to have the highest carbon footprints.
Therefore, if your carbon footprint is 10t CO2 eq, you have to do something to reduce it, and quick ! To do so, you could follow the advice given by the calculators listed above.
Meeting the goals set by the Paris agreements won’t be easy : the average carbon footprint of French households must be reduced by over 80% by 2050 to reach our goals. But to what extent can the individual efforts achieve significant change? (8)
If small gestures are essential, they can’t, on their own, achieve our carbon neutrality goals. Individual changes have to be accompanied by structural measures.
This necessity has, besides, been highlighted in the last GIEC report : to limit global warming to no more than 1,5°C above pre-industrial levels by the end of the decade, CO2 emissions will have to drop drastically before 2030 (-45% by 2030) and the world reach a “carbon neutrality” in 2050.
(1) Lemke Coralie (2019). Jour du dépassement : combien de planètes Terre faudrait-il si tout le monde consommait autant que vous ? Site : https://www.sciencesetavenir.fr/nature-environnement/pollution/combien-de-terres-faudrait-il-si-tout-le-monde-vivait-comme-vous_135948
(2) Carbone 4 (2022). Empreinte carbone française moyenne, comment est-elle calculée ? Site : https://www.carbone4.com/myco2-empreinte-moyenne-evolution-methodo?mc_cid=69233218e6&mc_eid=0b0179c02a
(4) Dugast César, Soyeux Alexia (2019). Pouvoir et responsabilité des individus, des entreprises et de l’État face à l’urgence climatique. Site : https://www.carbone4.com/wp-content/uploads/2019/06/Publication-Carbone-4-Faire-sa-part-pouvoir-responsabilite-climat.pdf
(5) Nos gestes climat : https://nosgestesclimat.fr/
(6) Agence de l’environnement et de la maîtrise de l’énergie
(7) Calculateur carbone de la fonction GoodPlanet : https://www.goodplanet.org/fr/calculateurs-carbone/
- Bon Pote (2022). Comment calculer son empreinte carbone. Site : https://bonpote.com/comment-calculer-son-empreinte-carbone/
- Dugast César, Soyeux Alexia (2019). Pouvoir et responsabilité des individus, des entreprises et de l’État face à l’urgence climatique. Site : https://www.carbone4.com/wp-content/uploads/2019/06/Publication-Carbone-4-Faire-sa-part-pouvoir-responsabilite-climat.pdf
- Watrinet Emmanuel (2022). Empreinte carbone : définition, principes, et méthodes de calcul. Site : https://www.hellocarbo.com/blog/reduire/empreinte-carbone-definition/
- Fondation GoodPlanet (2020). 3 minutes pour comprendre l’empreinte carbone de nos assiettes. Site : https://www.goodplanet.org/fr/3-minutes-pour-comprendre-lempreinte-carbone-de-nos-assiettes/
- Commissariat général au développement durable (2019). Qu’est-ce qu’un gaz à effet de serre ? Site : https://www.notre-environnement.gouv.fr/rapport-sur-l-etat-de-l-environnement/themes-ree/defis-environnementaux/changement-climatique/comprendre-le-changement-climatique/article/qu-est-ce-qu-un-gaz-a-effet-de-serre?lien-ressource=5271&ancreretour=lireplus%3Fglossarise%3D2507
- Guivarch Céline, Lecocq Franck (2022). Rapport du GIEC : “Chaque émission de gaz à effet de serre évitée réduit le changement climatique et ses effets”. Site : https://www.lemonde.fr/planete/article/2022/04/05/rapport-du-giec-chaque-emission-de-gaz-a-effet-de-serre-evitee-reduit-le-changement-climatique-et-ses-effets_6120724_3244.html