Beth Kayser

What is the average carbon footprint per person in the west?

3 min Read
Close up of a footprint in sand, surrounded by autumn leaves

In this article, we look at what the average carbon footprint is per person in the West, and in this context we are focusing solely on the UK.

The answer: the average carbon footprint per person in the UK, per year, is 12.7 tonnes CO2e.

OK. What does that mean?

First off: CO2e stands for carbon dioxide equivalent, a lump term to describe all the greenhouse gases under one common unit. It signifies the amount of CO2 that would cause the same amount of global warming, allowing for different bundles of greenhouse gases to be easily compared.

If you stepped onto the scales in the morning and weighed a tonne, you’d be a bit concerned. But in terms of carbon, is a tonne a lot? Or is it a drop in the ocean when you consider how vast the planet is?

Let’s put it into perspective:

Illustration of the average UK carbon footprint measured in days of domestic heating, car miles, and beef steaks
  1. Your heating would need to be going full blast for 80 days straight (although it would explode before you got there).
  2. You would need to drive 23,000 miles in the average car to emit 12.7 tonnes of CO2e (that’s once around the world).
  3. You’d have to eat over 1,000 beef steaks or 4,100 camemberts. But please don’t try that at home.

(Pawprint’s carbon footprint data is powered and fact-checked by Mike Berners-Lee’s Small World Consulting.  Mike is an advisor to Pawprint and author of How Bad are Bananas? The Carbon Footprint of Everything)

If ‘miles driven’ or food isn’t helping you visualise 12.7 tonnes, how about the equivalent weight? It’s the same as:

  • 18 dairy cows
  • 10,500 bottles of wine
  • 25 million plastic straws

To deadlift that weight, we’d need 25 and a half Eddie Halls (the world's strongest man, who lifts 500kgs).

Curious what the average carbon footprint is, globally? Well, in true Blue Peter style, here’s something we prepared earlier.

So is 12.7 tonnes of CO2e a lot?

In terms of global annual carbon emissions of ca. 38,000 megatonnes CO2e, 12.7 tonnes might not sound like much (Source: Edgar). But when you consider a population of 68 million people in the UK alone — nearing 8 billion worldwide — all of a sudden individual impact begins to mean something.  

If everyone in the UK reduced their carbon footprint by 100 kgs annually (the same as driving 180 less miles or eating 8 fewer steaks), we’d be 6.8 million tonnes of carbon lighter.

There are loads of easy and effective ways to reduce your footprint immediately. Why not try a flexitarian diet, and cut back on the amount of meat on your plate? Or switch to a green energy tariff and help transform the UK grid to 100% renewables? From tips and tricks on running a low carbon household and shopping for clothes sustainably, to calculating your carbon savings when switching to an EV, our Eco Blog has got you covered.

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