1.5°C Living Targets - additional information

More information on the 1.5° living targets, including Overview and explanation, Background and assumptions, the major policy measures necessary to reach the Paris climate targets, co-benefits, a selection of target-free activities, referencesa video presentation, details of the authors and acknowledgements.

Overview and explanation

Global, transformational action is needed over the next few years to prevent the climate crisis becoming much worse. Governments and large corporations should bear the largest responsibility for the world’s collective failure to implement sufficient measures to tackle the problem so far. One reason for this, however, is resistance from – mainly wealthier – consumers to the lifestyle changes necessary to stay within the 1.5°C temperature goal enshrined in the Paris Agreement. Indeed, it is the consumption patterns of the richest 10% of the world’s inhabitants that lead to approximately half of all global greenhouse gas emissions (Oxfam, 2015Oxfam, 2021). Here we seek to reduce this resistance by encouraging climate-conscious individuals – especially scientists and engineers, given their influence within society – to sign up to meeting targets compatible with the Paris goal. Our hope is that, if sufficient numbers of scientists and other influential people sign up, that would demonstrate powerful enough support to pressure policy-makers to enact measures on the scale necessary to transform society to meet the climate targets. (More discussion of the necessary policy measures is given under Major policy measures necessary to reach the Paris climate targets.)

On average, everyone in the world will need to have a ‘lifestyle carbon footprint’ of less than 2.5 tonnes of CO2 equivalent (tCO2e) per year by no later than 2030 – and reach intermediate levels before then and continue to reduce afterwards – to give a relatively high chance of meeting the 1.5°C temperature goal. The 2.5 tCO2e figure has been estimated by the Hot or Cool Institute (HoCI, 2021) based on a ‘global carbon budget’ that would have a 50% chance of keeping global heating below 1.5°C – and divided according to principles of fairness and sufficiency. (The data behind these figures is discussed in more depth under Background and assumptions.)

Scientists for Global Responsibility (SGR) has devised 10 evidence-based targets to help UK citizens meet that lifestyle carbon footprint this year. The HoCI estimates that current lifestyle carbon footprints in the UK are typically 8.5 tCO2e a year. The rest of your footprint – about 3.3 tCO2e – comes from your share of national services and infrastructure such as hospitals and the military, which you can influence (less directly) by using your vote and your political voice. (Those outside the UK are welcome to make the commitments too. Please sign up and then, if you would like to, go ahead and do your own calculations to take account of different factors such as the carbon emissions of your nation's electricity grid.)

So this is your chance to commit to any or all of the 10 targets compatible with the 1.5°C goal by 2030. We estimate that committing to meet all 10 targets would bring your lifestyle carbon footprint to less than 2.5 tCO2e a year.

Many people already meet some of these targets or will find them straightforward while others will find some of the targets a stretch. This will depend on individual circumstances such as having family abroad, living in an area with limited public transport, living in rented accommodation, or being limited by health issues. SGR acknowledges that our current government and systems interact with personal circumstances to make some choices much less easy; but by publicly committing to change your individual behaviour as much as you can within the system, those working in climate change can act as thought leaders and demonstrate the need and will for wider action.

With this in mind, please read all the targets before deciding your commitments. You can then sign up for all your chosen targets using the form towards the end of the web-page.

Please also note:

  • All 10 targets are given for one person per year;
  • The activities covered are only those in your personal life and not those which occur while at work (although we obviously encourage you to take action here as well);
  • ‘Zero’ means completely refrain from doing this activity during the year (because its carbon emissions are so high);
  • ‘Minimal’ means only do this activity at a very low level, depending on its carbon emissions intensity;
  • Given the uncertainties in the data (discussed under ‘Further background information’), we consider ‘hitting the target’ as reaching a level that is within 10% of that specified;
  • Monitoring is encouraged to check your actions are hitting the targets – and suggestions for a basic level of monitoring are also given.

Sign up to the targets

 

Background and assumptions

Further background information on the targets, including source data and general assumptions

Global carbon targets

The ‘global carbon budget’ is defined as the remaining amount of greenhouse gases that can be emitted by human activity before a certain global temperature change is reached. Attached to any estimate of this budget is the time period over which it applies and the probability that the target temperature will be reached. So, for example, the latest report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has estimated a global carbon budget of 500 billion tonnes of carbon dioxide which can be emitted from the start of 2020 onwards, and gives a greater than 50% chance of keeping the global temperature rise below 1.5°C (IPCC WG III, 2022: SPM, B.1.3). The Hot or Cool Institute (HoCI, 2021) has translated a similar budget – using earlier modelling studies and the full range of greenhouse gas emissions (CO₂, CH₄, N₂O, HFCs, PFCs, and SF₆) – into a declining level of annual emissions for each person in the world, assuming the amount is spread evenly across the population, and an adequate fraction is retained for public services. The estimated annual levels for this ‘lifestyle carbon footprint’ include 2.5 tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent (tCO2e) by 2030 and 0.7 tCO2e by 2050. Obviously, if the average emissions per person across world continues to be higher during the early 2020s than the pathway consistent with hitting the 1.5°C temperature target (as defined by the HoCI), then the target year for reaching a lifestyle carbon footprint of, e.g., 2.5 tCO2e will be brought forward, first to 2029, then 2028, and so on. Despite a large drop in UK and global greenhouse gas emissions in 2020 as a consequence of the COVID-19 pandemic, the subsequent rebound shows this is starting to happen. Indeed, if average UK emissions per person continue at around current levels, the nation’s ‘fair share’ of the global budget could be used up by as soon as 2025 (Campbell, 2021).
 

Comparing data on UK carbon footprint per person

The HoCI has estimated the UK’s lifestyle carbon footprint per person as 8.5 tCO2e/capita. This translates into a total carbon footprint per person of 11.8 tCO2e/capita once emissions for public services etc are included. (This is 8.5/0.72 – see: HoCI, 2021: 39). Other researchers have derived slightly different figures for total carbon footprint per person in the UK and these are summarised in the table below. As can be seen, the HoCI figures are roughly central among the estimates – typically within ±10% of the others – making them an appropriate basis for target-setting.
 

Year

Total carbon footprint per head (tCO2e/capita)

Study

2016

12.2

11.3

WWF-UK (2020) [1]

Defra (2021) [1]

2017

12.7

10.5

Berners-Lee (2020: 196)

Defra (2021) [1]

2018

10.6

Defra (2021) [1]

2019

11.8

Hot or Cool Institute (2021) [2]

Notes

1. Figures calculated using appropriate population data from: Office for National Statistics (2021).

2. Lifestyle carbon footprint per head is 8.5 tCO2e/cap. Total carbon footprint per head is 11.8 (=8.5/0.72 – see main text).

 

General assumptions behind the individual behaviour targets

  1. Deployment of negative emissions technologies (e.g. direct air capture or sustainable bioenergy with carbon capture and storage) at scale within the UK will not occur before 2030, which is highly likely to be the case (see Climate Change Committee, 2020: 197). Another example of the high level of scientific scepticism around the speed and scale at which these technologies may be developed and deployed emerged during a recent UK climate conference (The Guardian, 2022).
  2. Overseas carbon offsets are not used due to the highly questionable accounting methods involved and controversies surrounding their implementation at scale (see, e.g. Transport & Environment, 2017; Maslin, 2021) 
  3. Nature-based options, such as expanded forest cover, are only used to offset some of the emissions of public services before 2030. These options have limited capacity and so we do not account for them in personal consumption here.
  4. No new ultra-low carbon technologies - apart from those specified in the options - become available before 2030.

 

Major policy measures necessary to reach the Paris climate targets

There are numerous policy measures which would help transform society in the limited time left (IPCC WGIII, 2022). However, most funding and support is currently being directed towards technological options that we judge will either take too long to be deployed at scale (if at all) or are likely to cause significant damage to health, the natural environment, or social justice (for example, by undermining efforts to reach the Sustainable Development Goals). Here we highlight some of major policy measures which will help the shift to 1.5°C-compatible lifestyles, but are encountering considerable (and, in our view, unjustified) resistance:

  • ending the exploration for and development of new fossil fuel resources;
  • rapidly phasing out public subsidies for fossil fuel use;
  • bans on the advertising of high-carbon products and activities (e.g. flying, ‘gas guzzling’ cars, beef products);
  • high taxes on high-carbon products and activities;
  • bans on very high-carbon products and activities (e.g. private jets);
  • large increases in public spending and/or subsidies for low-carbon products and activities (e.g. home energy conservation measures, public transport, active travel, plant protein crops and foods);
  • large increases in public funding to help workers to reskill and transition from high-pollution jobs to low-pollution jobs;
  • ecological tax reform; and
  • other measures proposed as part of a ‘green new deal’.

 

Co-benefits

Climate action has a number of other benefits, including:

  • Ecological (including biodiversity and air/water/land pollution) due to
    • Lower consumption of energy and materials
    • Lower consumption of meat, dairy and fish
  • Human health and wellbeing due to
    • Better insulated homes
    • More time with family and friends
    • Lower consumption of meat and dairy
  • Financial due to
    • Lower consumption of energy/goods
  • Animal welfare due to
    • Lower consumption of meat, dairy and fish

 

Target-free activities

The following activities result in very low carbon emissions:

Socialising

  • Talking with family and friends – including via electronic media [1]
  • Musical activities – singing, dancing, playing musical instruments
  • Dinner parties and picnics with low-carbon food

Home skills

  • Cooking, especially using seasonal vegetables and fruit
  • Gardening, including growing your own food
  • Home maintenance (DIY) [2]
  • Sewing and knitting
  • Repairing electronic goods

Exercise

  • Walking, running and cycling
  • Playing outdoor sport, including swimming
  • Yoga and other home fitness

Shopping

  • For low-carbon food
  • For second-hand goods

Other activities

  • Wildlife watching
  • Foraging for wild plant-foods
  • Reading, creative writing & story-telling – including via electronic media [1]
  • Drawing, painting and other visual arts
  • Playing games, e.g. board games, card games and some computer games [1]
  • Other learning and teaching
  • Volunteering in local environment or community
  • Meditation, resting and sleeping
  • Listening to the radio
  • Watching TV [1]
  • Listening to recorded music

 

Notes

1. For a discussion of the carbon footprint of using electronic media, see for example, Berners-Lee (2020: 43-46; 116-118; 129-131).

2. This assumes these activities are consistent with targets 6 and 7.

 

References

Main references
(with others provided as links in the text)

BEIS (2021). Greenhouse gas reporting: conversion factors 2021. https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/greenhouse-gas-reporting-conversion-factors-2021

Berners-Lee M (2020). How bad are bananas? The carbon footprint of everything. (2nd edition). Profile books. https://profilebooks.com/work/how-bad-are-bananas/

Carbon Brief (2020). Factcheck: How electric vehicles help to tackle climate change (update: 7 February). https://www.carbonbrief.org/factcheck-how-electric-vehicles-help-to-tackle-climate-change

C40 Cities, Arup, University of Leeds (2019). The future of urban consumption in a 1.5°C world. https://www.arup.com/perspectives/publications/research/section/the-future-of-urban-consumption-in-a-1-5c-world

Centre for Alternative Technology (2019). Zero Carbon Britain: Rising to the Climate Emergency. https://cat.org.uk/info-resources/zero-carbon-britain/research-reports/zero-carbon-britain-rising-to-the-climate-emergency/

Climate Change Committee (2020). Sixth carbon budget.  https://www.theccc.org.uk/publication/sixth-carbon-budget/

Defra (2021). Official Statistics: UK's carbon footprint. https://www.gov.uk/government/statistics/uks-carbon-footprint

Ethical Consumer (2021). Ethical Energy Suppliers.  https://www.ethicalconsumer.org/energy/shopping-guide/energy-suppliers

HM Government (2021). Net Zero Strategy: Build Back Greener. https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/net-zero-strategy

Hot or Cool Institute (2021). 1.5-Degree Lifestyles: Towards a Fair Consumption Space for All. https://hotorcool.org/1-5-degree-lifestyles-report/

IPCC WGIII (2022). Summary for Policymakers. In: Climate Change 2022: Mitigation of Climate Change. Contribution of Working Group III to the Sixth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, UK. https://www.ipcc.ch/report/sixth-assessment-report-working-group-3/

Office for National Statistics (2021). Population estimates. https://www.ons.gov.uk/peoplepopulationandcommunity/populationandmigration/populationestimates

Oxfam (2015). Extreme Carbon Inequality: Why the Paris climate deal must put the poorest, lowest emitting and most vulnerable people first. https://policy-practice.oxfam.org/resources/extreme-carbon-inequality-why-the-paris-climate-deal-must-put-the-poorest-lowes-582545/

Oxfam (2021). Carbon inequality in 2030: Per capita consumption emissions and the 1.5⁰C goal. https://www.oxfam.org/en/research/carbon-inequality-2030

Poore J, Nemeck T (2018). Reducing food’s environmental impacts through producers and consumers. Science, vol.360, issue 6392, pp.987-992. https://www.science.org/doi/10.1126/science.aaq0216

Scarborough et al (2014). Dietary greenhouse gas emissions of meat-eaters, fish-eaters, vegetarians and vegans in the UK. Climatic Change, vol.125, pp.179–192. https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s10584-014-1169-1

WWF-UK (2020). Carbon footprint: exploring the UK’s contribution to climate change. https://www.wwf.org.uk/press-release/uks-carbon-footprint

 

Watch a presentation

See SGR's Stuart Parkinson explain the targets 

See Stuart's slides (PDF)

 

About the authors

Dr Stuart Parkinson has been Executive Director of Scientists for Global Responsibility (SGR) since 2003. Stuart's background includes a PhD in climate science from Lancaster University, extensive experience using and critiquing carbon accounting methodologies, and a period as an expert reviewer for the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. He has been a keen practitioner of sustainable living for many years.

Dr Liz Kalaugher is Responsible Science Campaigner at SGR. Liz has degrees in the physical sciences from the University of Oxford and Bristol University, and spent 12 years reporting on climate change and environmental science for IOP Publishing.

Acknowledgements

We would like to thank the following for their contribution to this work:

  • Dr Philip Webber, Dr Jan Maskell, Andrew Simms, Dr Ian Campbell, and Kate Power for helpful comments of early drafts of this material;
  • The Martin Ryle Trust and ClimateWorks Foundation for grant funding.

Any mistakes, of course, remain the responsibility of the authors.