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Brotherly challenge, part 3: should individuals reduce their emissions?

Posted by: , Posted on: - Categories: Climate Change
Low energy bulbs are one way individuals can reduce their carbon emissions. (Credit: Joe Colburn)
Low energy bulbs are one way individuals can reduce their carbon emissions. (Credit: Joe Colburn)

In discussing the ongoing climate conversation I'm having with my brother in my last two blogs, I've talked about the evidence behind the need to tackle climate change, and about why we need to assist developing countries to grow their economies and reduce poverty in a low carbon way.

But my brother's question that kicked off my musings was about why a relative handful of people in developed countries would bother to reduce their own individual emissions.

In the scenario I set out in my last post, for developing countries to limit their emissions to 2.5 tonnes per capita, developed countries would have to reduce their own emissions to zero. That's a pretty massive ask: the UK at the moment emits 8.94  tonnes per capita.

My brother's right that we can't meet the climate change targets we must set ourselves by a privileged few lowering their meat consumption. The biggest effects will come from governments committing to serious cuts at Copenhagen, and from a real change in, for example, how industry works, how we meet our energy needs, and how we travel.

But individuals emit a significant proportion of developed countries' emissions.  In the UK, more than 40 per cent of CO2 emissions come directly from what individuals do – for example, using electricity in the home and driving cars. So we all need to take responsibility too. There are lots of great campaigns around to help us do that – you can sign up to reduce your emissions by 10% by 2010 and the UK government has a dedicated website to help.

After all these debates and our protracted question and answer session, my brother proved last night that he understands where I'm coming from – and is a mighty fine brother. I went to his place for dinner, expecting to have to swap one of my weekend meat-eating days. But no. He'd been to the local Chinese supermarket to buy tofu, and he cooked up a delicious vegan feast.

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  1. Comment by giovani posted on

    Yes climate change is a big issue, and emissions must be reduced. I personally with my friends is making a plan to reduce emissions.
    Following are few things we are trying to do:
    1. Using solar panels to generate our own electricity
    2. Insulating our windows and doors
    3. Saving water
    4. Using low emission bulbs
    5. Sharing cars to drive to work

  2. Comment by Vicky Seymour posted on

    Many thanks Giovani - your efforts are inspiring! As I mentioned in the blog, the UK government has a website to help with the kind of personal efforts you're making, which you or others may find useful -

    Keep the good work up!

  3. Comment by Jessica Ward posted on

    We all need to do a lot to change how we behave to reduce our individual Carbon footprint. But how do we get the message to people in the developing world and get them to understand what can be done? While I was working in Tanzania I was amazed by how enthusiastic school children would get when we gave talks and ran work shops on reducing their impact on the environment; still the harsh impact of plastics littering the streets is just one small reminder that a lot more needs to be done.

  4. Comment by Vicky Seymour posted on

    Thanks for your comment, Jessica, and you're right that education and public awareness is really important in the developing world as well as the developed. Your work in Tanzania provides a clear example.

    The UK Government has been doing a lot of work in this area. DFID funded Plan UK to prepare young people for climate change and give them practical skills and small amounts of funding to combat it. They put together a movie on how Sierra Leone teenagers are tackling deforestation and climate change which you can see here:

    We've also done some work on linking up traditional communities and climatologists to share information about tackling climate change - And we've helped increase awareness among tea farmers in South Africa on how to adapt to climate change impacts. You can find a whole load more information and details of UK-funded programmes here -

    There are also a number of schools across Africa involved in a British Council programme called the DFID Global School Partnerships Programme ( This supports links between schools in the UK and in developing countries. Many of them will look at climate change and other environmental issues as part of joint curricular projects between the two link schools.

    Thanks again for your work and for sharing your thoughts.


  5. Comment by Aldo W Mathers posted on

    Emisions the best way to reduce is as in the old saying, "on yer bike!"