How to measure climate impact

The underlying question that drives us is: How can I have the most impact towards saving the planet?

In order to answer this, we need some way to measure impact. Luckily, when it comes to climate, the unit of choice is pretty obvious: tons of CO2.

But what does that even mean?

In this article we want to give you a bit more of a feel for CO2 as a measure of impact.

1 ton of CO2

1 ton of CO2 corresponds to 

  • Driving 4300km (2700 miles) by car, e.g. from Madrid to Moscow.
  • The average emission of one passenger on a return flight from Paris to NewYork
  • 2.6 billion bubble wrap bubbles filled with CO2. This would be enough bubble wrap to cover 63 soccer fields
  • Heating one small room for 1 year.1 

In comparison it takes 100 trees 1 year to absorb the same amount of CO2.2 

Other greenhouse gases

CO2 is actually only one of many greenhouse gases contributing to climate change. The most well known greenhouse gas other than CO2 is methane (CH4). It has a 28x stronger effect in heating the climate compared to CO2. There’s also nitrous oxide (265x stronger effect), hydrofluorocarbons (up to 10 000x stronger effect) and a few others.3 For easier comparison, emissions from non-CO2 greenhouse gases are usually measured in CO2 equivalents (CO2e). E.g. 1 ton of methane corresponds to 28 tons of CO2e.

Global emissions

If we include all greenhouse gases, global emissions per year are actually around 49 Gt of CO2e = 49 000 000 000 tons of CO2e.5

Carbon budget

The 1.5°C carbon budget is the total amount of carbon we can emit, as to limit global warming to 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels. It currently stands at 420-570 Gt of CO2.6 That means at current emission levels we will run out of our carbon budget by 2030.

In other words: we have less than 10 years to save the planet.

Per capita emissions by country

Average CO2 emissions per person vary from country to county. Here are some examples7:

With these numbers in mind, we can compare the effect of various actions and judge which ones have the most impact in terms of CO2. Our goal at heyImpact is to point you exactly to those most impactful actions. 

Where can I learn more?

Wanna learn more? Check out Episode 1 of our podcast How to Make a Difference: Episode 1: How to Measure Climate Impact

Resources

1) Assuming a diesel car consuming 5L/100km (47 miles/gallon) and a central heating system using heating oil. Calculated using the footprint calculator of myclimate.

2) According to PRIMAKLIMA the amount of CO2 absorbed by a tree depends on the age of the tree and its type. However, they give a rough estimate of 10 kg of CO2 per tree per year for an average German tree.

3) Check out Wikipedia for an overview of the most important greenhouse gases and their impact on global warming.

4) Value for 2017; according to the IPCC (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change) Special Report on the impacts of global warming of 1.5°C

5) All values for 2016; Hannah Ritchie and Max Roser (2017) – “CO2 and Greenhouse Gas Emissions”. Published online at OurWorldInData.org. Retrieved from: ‘https://ourworldindata.org/co2-and-other-greenhouse-gas-emissions‘ [Online Resource]

6) According to the IPCC (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change) Special Report on the impacts of global warming of 1.5°C

7) Values for 2017; Hannah Ritchie and Max Roser (2017) – “CO2 and Greenhouse Gas Emissions”. Published online at OurWorldInData.org. Retrieved from: ‘https://ourworldindata.org/co2-and-other-greenhouse-gas-emissions‘ [Online Resource]

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