Beth Kayser

What is the average carbon footprint, globally?

5 min Read
Cardboard map of earth on wall

The average carbon footprint per person is 7 tonnes CO2e per year.

Is that a lot?

Let’s put 7 tonnes CO2e into perspective:

It's 2 return flights from London to Hong Kong in economy
It's 5,500 miles in a big SUV (like driving from Spain to South Africa in a Range Rover)
It's 34,000 hours of TV (or streaming the Lord of the Rings Trilogy 3,000 times in a row

But, as with most stats, we need to break this one down to fully understand it. Because how can we measure a global average, when some people travel by plane once a week for work and others have never even set foot on an aeroplane?

The average carbon footprint per nation is wildly disparate.

Here are the two sides of the coin:

Illustration depicting the average carbon footprint in Malawi ("0.2 tonnes CO2e") vs North America ("21 tonnes CO2e")

The average carbon footprint in Malawi is 0.2 tonnes CO2e


The average carbon footprint in North America is 21 tonnes CO2e

What about the UK? We fare roughly in the middle of these two countries at 12.7 tonnes CO2e. And before you start figuring out whether that’s good or bad, in true Blue Peter style, here’s something we prepared earlier:

What makes up a carbon footprint?

“Carbon footprint” is a catchall term for the amount of greenhouse gas (GHG) something or someone is responsible for. It is measured in carbon dioxide equivalent, or CO2e, which is the sum of all greenhouse gas emissions rolled into one. In the UK, we can split our carbon footprint into four more-or-less equal parts: food, home, travel and everything else.

Pie chart of the carbon footprint of an average person in the UK
Carbon footprint of an average person in the UK

How can you reduce your carbon footprint?

To drastically reduce greenhouse gas emissions and carve the path to net zero, the aim is to achieve the 5-tonne lifestyle. That is, reaching a maximum personal emissions total of 5 tonnes of CO2e per year. Trickier for North Americans, though we'll need to cut down here in the UK as well.

As for Malawians - well, their average citizen isn’t part of the problem. In fact, this highlights the injustice of climate change; often it’s those who have done the least to cause it that are burdened with the worst of the crisis.

Let this truth galvanise you into action: a few easy wins include making more delicious veggie meals; washing your clothes on eco-mode or 30 degrees; choosing to breathe in that sweet fresh air and walk, bike or use public transport over your car; switching to a green energy tariff (check out this article which explains how to choose a green provider); or finish that book instead of watching Netflix (the internet, even on your phone, consumes constant electricity).

Bigger actions include pressuring your pension provider to commit to a net zero strategy, voting for leaders who understand the urgency of this issue and swapping to a bank that invests in the future you want to see.

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