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Budgeting for a low carbon future

The climate is changing - it’s no longer a matter for debate. Farmers are seeing the seasons disrupted, extreme floods are commonplace, and essential habitats for plants and animals are being destroyed.

So, what can we do? The start of a new financial year may not seem like the obvious place to start - but it does remind us of the need to balance the books and stick to our budget. A similar approach is needed in the way we treat our carbon emissions.

Scientists agree that the atmosphere can only absorb a small amount more of greenhouse gases before it can no longer support the livelihoods, lifestyles and nature we enjoy here in our beautiful towns and villages in North Yorkshire. If we keep doing what we have always done we will lose so much.

Just as we need a budget for our finances, so we also need a budget for our carbon emissions. This figure is not decided by how much money we need, but by a global panel of scientists. This global carbon budget represents the weight of greenhouse gases which can be absorbed by the atmosphere before average temperatures increase by more than 1.5°C, which would cause catastrophic climate change.

For the Harrogate District to emit no more than its fair share from this carbon budget, based on the number of people who live here, we must limit our emissions this decade to a total of 6.3 million tonnes. We currently emit more than a million tonnes of carbon dioxide every year. This means that unless we change our heating and travel arrangements, we are likely to exceed this budget before the end of 2025.

To manage our budget effectively we need to know how much carbon is emitted in the production processes and supply chain of the products and services we buy. For example, were the many components for our computers and phones made in a factory powered by renewable electricity or coal? The carbon emitted in goods before they reach us is called embedded carbon, and is included in our carbon footprints.

We can very easily gain an estimate of our carbon footprints using one of several free online tools. For instance, the Pawprint app, which provides a measurement of your own carbon footprint and also gives helpful tips on how to reduce it.

We all share the same overall carbon budget, but we all have different carbon footprints. Through the choices we make we can ensure that we are spending only our fair share of the budget. This is vitally important, because in the case of carbon there are no credit arrangements or safe overdraft facilities.

Carbon costs can readily be taken into account when we make decisions, just as we consider financial expense. For example, someone driving a mile in a large SUV will emit over 1kg of carbon dioxide, which is twice as much as someone in an average family car. Fortunately, a growing number of local people are already making helpful decisions such as leaving the car at home for short journeys, switching to renewable electricity, and insulating their homes. In the long run, these choices can save us money as well as carbon.

Most of us are motivated by seeing ourselves do well – being able to visibly measure and reduce our impact on the environment is inspiring many of us to do better. Why not find out what you carbon footprint is and see how you can reduce it?


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