Carbon footprints

Human activities have an impact on the environment – this impact can be measured as an emission of carbon dioxide. Find out how average emissions differ depending on where you live.

Measuring the impact of carbon dioxide on the environment

A carbon footprint is a measure of the impact our activities have on the environment. It calculates the greenhouse gases we are expected to produce in all our activities and measures them in units of carbon dioxide. The world average is about 4,000 kg of carbon dioxide per person per year. In the UK it is nearly 10,000 kg per person per year.

This pie chart shows what contributes to the carbon footprint of a typical person living in an MEDC.

Pie chart showing a break down of a typical persons footprint in a MEDC

Pie chart showing a break down of a typical persons footprint in a MEDC


As a country develops its carbon footprint tends to increase. This pattern is shown in the graph below, with MEDCs emitting the most carbon dioxide.

Carbon dioxide emissions in tonnes per capita (per person)

Country 1990 2006
Qatar 25.2 56.2
United Arab Emirates 29.4 32.8
United States 19.0 19.0
Australia 17.4 18.1
Singapore 15.6 12.8
Japan 9.5 10.1
Germany 12.1 9.7
United Kingdom 10.0 9.4
South Africa 9.1 8.6
Italy 7.5 8.1
Thailand 1.8 4.3
Egypt 1.4 2.2
Brazil 1.4 1.9
Kenya 0.2 0.3
Bangladesh 0.1 0.3
Sierra Leone 0.1 0.2
Ethiopia 0.1 0.1
A bar chart of the 2006 CO2 emission figures

A bar chart of the 2006 CO2 emission figures

Carbon credits

The carbon credits scheme is aimed at reducing greenhouse gas emissions. It is based on the polluter pays principle according to how much pollution they generate. The idea is that people are encouraged to pollute less, as it will cost them less in carbon taxes.

Case study: London Congestion Charge

Drivers are charged for driving in the congestion charge zone in central London. The aim is to discourage drivers from using the zone during peak hours and use public transport instead, thereby reducing congestion, the time spent in queues, the pollution generated and the cost to the economy. The money generated is used to improve public transport, eg older London buses which generate more pollution have been removed from service.

The results

  • Traffic congestion, accidents, and pollution levels have all been reduced.
  • There has been increased investment in public transport.
  • Bus services are more reliable.
  • Retail sales inside the congestion charging zone have increased.

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