What international climate targets do we have, and what do they mean for an individual? How much do we really have to do as individuals to be sure we reach the Paris agreement?
What have we committed to internationally?
The Paris agreement commits to limiting global warming to 2°C, or preferably 1.5 °C, compared to pre-industrial levels. It does not contain explicit per-country targets, but requires countries to submit pledges for how much they will reduce their direct emissions, so-called nationally-determined contributions (NDC).
Climate action tracker provides an overview of all nationally-determined contributions. Norway has pledged to cut direct emissions by at least 50%, preferably 55%. These targets only relate to emissions that occur within the countries boundaries, ignoring the emissions associated with the products and services purchased by public actors and citizens of the country from outside its borders. While these commitments are great for some uses, like incentivizing national investments in electrification and sustainable energy, direct emission targets are not suitable for calculating cost-benefit of sustainability initiatives, incentivizing circular economy, reducing the impact of imported goods and services, or even for involving citizens at all.
We have therefore outlined an alternative type of climate target - from the same premises and global scenarios in the Paris agreement - a footprint target. A handful of frontrunner countries and actors are now moving on this! As you can see further down, Sweden has committed to reducing consumption-based emissions, while cities such as Portland and Paris have plans for reducing footprint.
What’s a reasonable global footprint target?
Scientists have created a wide range of emissions scenarios that limit global warming. Scenarios that reach the 1.5 °C target require (on average) global emissions of 25 gigatonnes of CO2e by 2030, while scenarios that limit global warming to 2 °C require global emissions of 39 gigatonnes of CO2e by 2030 (UNEP Gap Report 2022)
This above corresponds to a footprint in the range of 2.9 to 4.5 tonnes of CO2e per capita, assuming a global population of 8.5 billion people in 2030. In this footprint target, we assume that in the future the Earth’s resources will be shared equally amongst its population.
The more we can reduce our footprint, the less devastating consequences for human populations around the planet and global ecosystems. Every fraction of a degree matters!
Have any countries committed to footprint targets?
Currently, Sweden is the only country working on a consumption-based climate target. With a target to achieve net-zero emissions by 2045, Sweden already had one of the most ambitious climate targets, but they decided to go a step further with the inclusion of consumption-based emissions. Around 60% of Sweden’s total emissions are linked to imports, which makes tackling emissions embodied in trade ever so important if the nation wants to stay on track to achieve carbon neutrality.
There have been several research studies that look into national consumption lifestyles and patterns compatible with the 1.5o target. One such example is Luxembourg in Transition, which defines ecological transition scenarios compatible with the 1.5o target for Luxembourg. The results indicate that the consumption-based footprint of an average Luxembourgish citizen has to decrease from 15.5 tonnes of CO2e per year to 1.5 tonnes of CO2e per year by 2050. Apart from this, several cities around the globe have announced strategies to reduce consumption-based emissions in their climate action plans. The Climate Action Plan of Paris aims for a 40% reduction in their consumption-based emissions by 2030 and net-zero emissions by 2050. It plans to achieve this goal by reducing consumption, reducing energy demand combined with an increasing share of renewable energy production and offsetting. The San Francisco Climate Action Plan is one of the most comprehensive and ambitious plans, targeting both direct and consumption-based emissions. It plans to reduce consumption-based emissions by 40% by 2030, and by 80% by 2050.
To sum it up, Sweden is the only country to date to have pledged a consumption-based footprint target. Additionally, there are several cities that have announced plans to reduce consumption-based emissions but haven’t yet defined a footprint target for its citizens. It’s not too optimistic to say that we’re moving in the right direction, and hopefully more and more nations will take inspiration from Sweden and announce consumption-based footprint targets in the near future.
What does this footprint target mean for me?
For the average Norwegian citizen, the current footprint is around 11 tonnes of CO2e, so the above target (based on carbon budgets) corresponds to an annual footprint reduction of about 1 tonne of CO2e between 2022 and 2030. This reduction will be achieved through a mixture of behavioral and systemic change. That means that individuals should try to reduce their footprint, while also demanding policies that encourage clean technology and sustainable options for consumers.
Ducky estimates that in affluent countries like Norway, there is a potential for around 50% of these cuts to be achieved through behavioral change. This correlates with the IPCC findings that demand-side mitigation has the potential to reduce emissions by 40-70% ( F. Creutzig and J. Roy, WG III Contribution to the Sixth Assessment Report: Chapter 5 (2022)). The more we can reduce demand, the less we will have to use uncertain technologies like carbon capture and sequestration to compensate for humanity’s emissions.
What can I do?
As an individual, you can help meet international goals by voting for parties with concrete, realistic plans for reducing emissions, and by reducing your footprint, both by consuming less and by demanding climate-friendly solutions and products. You can read more about our proposed climate-friendly actions here. Those with the largest impact are:
- Flying less
- Reducing car use in everyday life
- Eating less animal products and more plants
- Reducing the energy demand of your house by insulating, turning down the thermostat or reducing the area you heat
- Selecting durable, environmentally friendly products that can be repaired, as well as repairing when possible
As we have highlighted above, a combination of systemic and behavioral change is needed to reach the footprint target - but demand-side footprint reduction is the cheapest and quickest solution towards reaching international targets.
Can I see how I am doing in relation to this target?
Feel free to use our climate calculator to check your footprint, and see what changes you can make to move your footprint towards 3 or 4 tonnes of CO2e by 2030. Remember that technology and therefore everything you buy will become greener during that time - so it’s not all up to you - but every bit you can cut helps!
What can my country do to help reach this target?
This is basically what Ducky does in our Challenge, Footprints and Insights tools. Regarding policy, you can read more about our thoughts on national climate actions here.