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Reduce your carbon footprint: 10% per year

We advocate that people reduce their carbon footprint by at least 10% per year.

This is in line with
  • The UN/IPCC SR15 report and a halving of global greenhouse gas emissions by 2030 [1], which would require a 6% per year reduction, together with
  • The principle of equity set out the Paris Agreement of 2015 [2] where the most developed countries reduce their emissions the fastest.
  • The latest climate evidence that suggests that the climate is changing faster than previously thought.

We suggest:
  • estimate your footprint for the last 12 months (or the last calendar year)
  • set a target for a reduction of at least 10% in the next year, and then a reduction of at least 10% in each subsequent year


  • you switch from being part of the problem to being part of the solution - less guilt!
  • you can advocate to others (individuals, businesses, etc) that they cut their carbon footprint - otherwise you can be accused of hypocrisy
  • it encourages the development of a low-carbon economy
  • you increase the number of people living a lower-carbon lifestyle, which adds to the pressure on reluctant politicians to make the right decisions.

The evidence is that the purchasing decisions of a group of individuals can have a large effect. Fair trade is one example. It has expanded enormously in the last few decades, all down to the personal purchasing decisions of individuals.

Our experience

We started measuring our carbon footprint in 2006 for the year 2005: it was 11.9 tonnes equivalent CO2, i.e. not much less than the UK average of 13.4 tonnes - and we thought we were pretty environmentally aware!

We settled on a plan of a reduction of 10% per year - we considered more, but 20% per year seems difficult and would probably not be something that we could advocate to others. A smaller reduction e.g. 5% seemed half-hearted. So we settled on a 10% reduction per year i.e. to 90% of the previous year's target.

Initially we were on track:

YearTarget (tonnes equivalent CO2)Actual CO2 footprint
200610.7 (i.e. 90% of 11.9) 9.6
20079.6 (i.e. 90% of 10.7)9.1
20088.6 (i.e. 90% of 9.6)7.9
20097.7 (i.e. 90% of 8.6)7.7
20106.9 (i.e. 90% of 7.7)6.8
20116.2 (i.e. 90% of 6.9)6.0
20126.0 (i.e. 96% of 6.2)5.9
20135.8 (i.e. 96% of 6.0)6.0
20145.6 (i.e. 96% of 5.8)5.9
20155.4 (i.e. 96% of 5.6)6.2
20165.2 (i.e. 96% of 5.4)6.0
20175.0 (i.e. 96% of 5.2)5.7
20184.8 (i.e. 96% of 5.0)6.0
20194.6 (i.e. 96% of 4.8)5.9
20204.4 (i.e. 96% of 4.6)4.8

After 2011, we reached half of our initial carbon footprint (and less than half of the average UK value). This was achieved via the changes of
  • stopping flying
  • 55% reduction in car miles
  • 72% reduction in electricity use (via energy efficiency and installation of solar pv panels)
  • 30% reduction in gas use
  • switching to organic food, and local food where possible
  • buying stuff only when needed.
None of this felt difficult.

From 2011, our plan was to reduce at a rate of 4% per year, so that our footprint stayed at less than half of the per person value needed to meet the UK Government's 2020 and 2050 targets.

We have found even this to be difficult, partly because of government inaction, in particular
  • failure to make Passivhaus (home energy) technology [3] readily available and affordable
  • failure to make walking and cycling easier and safer
  • failure to improve public transport
  • failure to support local organic food
  • inadequate support for renewable electricity generation.


[1]United Nations: Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) SR15 report (Oct 2018)
[2]Paris Agreement (2015) - Article 4(1) (page2) has the commitment that developing countries will take longer for emissions to peak, with the implication that developed countries will reduce more quickly
[3]Passivhous home heating standards

First published: 2009
Last updated: 14 Apr 2021