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Environment: treading lightly on the Earth
Environment: treading lightly on the Earth

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4.5 Summary of Section 4

The main learning points from Section 4 are:

  • There are many national and international targets for reducing GHG emissions, especially CO2.
  • Increasingly, these targets are based on reductions in emissions necessary to give a reasonable chance of preventing the mean global temperature rising by more than 2 °C (and preferably 1.5 °C) compared to pre-industrial levels, in order to avoid dangerous climate change.
  • A sustainable carbon footprint is likely to involve an eventual reduction of at least 80% in the mean carbon footprint of people living in rich, developed countries. Shorter-term individual or household footprint reductions of 35% to 50% should be possible without losing the benefits of a developed society’s lifestyle.
  • Different technical and lifestyle changes have different effects on individual or household carbon footprints. The effects depend on personal circumstances, but the most cost-effective usually include:
    • reducing, or replacing, air and car travel; car sharing
    • upgrading home insulation
    • installing an efficient heating and hot water system
    • fully occupying homes, but keeping family size small
    • reducing consumption of meat and dairy products and air-freighted fruit and vegetables
    • reducing unnecessary purchases of high-carbon goods (e.g. new vehicles)
    • spending spare income on low-carbon or carbon-saving goods and services.
  • People’s ability to radically reduce their footprint is constrained by their circumstances, such as their jobs, family, social pressures and willingness to change.
  • A carbon footprint calculator is one way of exploring how to reduce individual or household footprints. However, it can provide only an approximate calculation of the effects of different technical and lifestyle actions.

The final section of this course will look at the role of individuals, households, communities and governments in reducing carbon footprints.