"Kick the CO2 Habit" - UNEP Says It May Be Easier Than You Think

Adopting a climate-friendly lifestyle needn't require drastic changes or major sacrifices. People in the developed world, as well as some rapidly developing countries and cities - from Manchester and Manhattan to Moscow and Mumbai - can start right away to "Kick the C02 Habit", the UN Environment Programme (UNEP) says.

Adopting a climate-friendly lifestyle needn't require drastic changes or major sacrifices.

People in the developed world, as well as some rapidly developing countries and cities - from Manchester and Manhattan to Moscow and Mumbai - can start right away to "Kick the C02 Habit", the UN Environment Programme (UNEP) says.

Some quite simple measures can more than halve the daily emissions of an individual, with even bigger cuts possible if sectors like power suppliers and automobile makers as well as aviation and appliance manufacturers contributed more to the greening of global lifestyles.


For example studies indicate that if every airline passenger reduced to below 20Kg the weight of goods and items carried and bought what they needed on arrival at a duty-free lounge, this could cut global greenhouse gas emissions by two million tonnes of carbon dioxide (CO2) a year.

Other low-carbon lifestyle choices at home and when traveling include:

-Backing campaigns to encourage airlines to give free coach and rail miles instead of free air miles in order to promote switches to more environmentally-friendly forms of transport.

-Waking up with a traditional wind-up alarm clock rather than the beep of an electronic one - this can save someone almost 48 grams (g) of CO2 each day.

-Choosing to dry clothes on a washing line versus a tumble dryer - a daily carbon diet of 2.3 Kg of CO2.

-Replacing a 45-minute workout on a treadmill with a jog in a nearby park. This saves nearly 1 Kg of the main greenhouse gas.

These are the findings from two reports launched on World Environment Day by UNEP under the theme "Kick the Habit! Towards a Low Carbon Economy".

The main celebrations of what is a global event are taking place today in New Zealand, one of five countries that have pledged to become "climate neutral".

One of the reports, a kind of Rough Guide to low carbon living, is entitled "Kick the Habit: The UN Guide to Climate Neutrality".

The other, compiled by experts in collaboration with UNEP and the UN World Tourism Organization (UNWTO), is entitled "Climate Change Adaptation and Mitigation in the Tourism Sector".

It focuses on the challenges and opportunities facing the world's biggest industry including those linked with flying - both long and short haul.

Achim Steiner, UN Under-Secretary-General and UNEP Executive Director, said: "Greenhouse gas emissions are continuing to rise across the globe with transport including aviation one of the fastest growing sources. Yet there are countless management, policy and technological opportunities for dramatically changing this trajectory through more intelligent choices by governments, industry and the global public".

"Some of these choices are big - from smart taxes to encourage offshore wind farms as opposed to more coal-fired power stations to national policies that favour cleaner and greener forms of mobility up to ones that promote energy efficiency rather than energy consumption," he said.

"Others are small, such as perhaps thinking about which appliances we buy, how we travel and where we source our energy. But multiplied across the world and acted upon by 6.7 billion people, the public have the power to change the future - have the power to personally and collectively influence economies to 'Kick the CO2 Habit'," he said.

New Zealand's Environment Minister Trevor Mallard said: "Sustainability is at the core of New Zealand's national identity. We take pride in our clean, green image, and we have set ambitious goals in our efforts to move toward carbon neutrality."

"Climate change is one of the biggest environmental issues facing the world today and World Environment Day is an important recognition of today's global interdependence and the responsibility that we all share for securing human welfare today and tomorrow."

Halving Your Carbon Footprint - Every Little Counts

The UN Guide suggests there are many small 'no regrets' choices that together could reduce daily emissions by someone in Australasia, Europe and North America - the major contributors to global warming historically - from say 38 Kg to 14 Kg.

The suggestions, requiring little or no change in comfort, may also be relevant in part to some developing country countries, cities, sectors and people whose carbon footprint is sharply on the rise.

Just under half of personal emissions come from things under individuals' control, such as how much we drive and fly and heat and power our homes.

Of the remaining 50 per cent, about half comes indirectly from powering the places where we work, 10 per cent more from maintaining infrastructure and government and about 20 per cent during the production of goods that people buy including food.

How did you start your low carbon day? After switching off your climate neutral wind-up clock and pulling on your zero emission-dried clothes, what about brushing your teeth and having breakfast?

Consider the following:

-Opting for non-electric toothbrush will avoid nearly 48 g of CO2 emissions;

-Heating bread rolls in a toaster versus an oven for 15 minutes saves nearly 170 g of CO2;

-Switching from regular 60-Watt light bulbs to energy-saving ones will produce four times less greenhouse gas emissions;

-Taking the train rather than the car for a daily office commute of as little as 8 km will save a big 1.7 Kg of CO2;

-Shutting down your computer and flat screen both during lunch break and after working hours will cut CO2 emissions generated by these appliances by one-third; and

-Investing in a water-saving shower head will not only save 10 liters of water per minute, but will also slash CO2 emissions resulting from a three-minute hot shower by half.

A Green Economy Makes Economic Sense

And what about when you are at work, how energy saving is your home? Heating, cooling and lighting our homes and using household appliances uses up over ten per cent of global energy supplied.

Meanwhile buildings account for about 30 per cent of greenhouse gas emissions - perhaps even more - according to UNEP's Sustainable Building and Construction Initiative.

Yet the average household in a country like the United Kingdom could save around two tonnes of CO2 annually by making its home energy-efficient by for example improving insulation, heating systems and lighting.

Try turning down the thermostat. The Guide suggests that lowering the temperature of a 90 sq m apartment by just a couple of degrees would save six per cent in energy and energy bills.

And there is the fridge. A 150-litre refrigerator with a freezer that is A++ rated emits over 130g less in CO2 than a comparable A- rated one.

The Guide says that householders to companies often underestimate the savings that can be simply and easily achieved.

In one survey of small and medium enterprises (SMEs), nearly one-quarter of those studied believed their business could save only between one and four per cent on energy bills, although the real average figure was 10 per cent.

The UK's Carbon Trust estimates that the widespread adoption of advanced metering by British SMEs would result in annual cost savings of US$600 million and potential carbon savings of over 12 per cent.

Travel and Transport - a Rising Challenge

On the flip side, having a 'carbon binge' can undo a lot of good work, says the Guide. For instance, a return transatlantic flight will make you responsible for the same amount of emissions as running a car for a year.

For frequent fliers - whether jet-setting business people or bargain-hunting holidaymakers - air journeys are by far their biggest contribution to warming the planet.

Over short distances air travel produces around three times more CO2 per passenger than rail, while the industry as a whole accounts for around 2-3 per cent of global greenhouse gas emissions.

Coach or bus may be an even better option for intercity travel since some of the new high-speed rail services have an appreciable carbon footprint themselves.

At the same time, technological innovation can help improve the efficiency of transporting people and goods. Airbus, maker of the super-jumbo A380 aircraft, says that the plane uses less than three liters of fuel per passenger per 100 kilometers.

Meanwhile Air New Zealand is planning to fly a plane powered by biofuels made from marine algae.

The joint UNEP and UNWTO report suggests other ways in which aviation and tourism might contribute to a transition to a low carbon economy.

Apart from cuts in hand luggage and duty free allowances on board, along with the promotion of coach and rail miles over free air miles, experts propose other measures. These include:

-Encouraging tour operators to book direct flights rather than ones with detours or stop-overs.

-Encouraging airlines to cooperative more closely to boost passenger load factors to 80 per cent - currently the average load factor in the European Union is 65 per cent.

-A substantial increase in air fares for business travellers to reflect the extra space they take which could be used for more passengers and thus more climate-friendly flights.

-Measures to reduce the age of the world's airline fleet. In Sweden, the average age of a plane is just over ten years whereas in the United States one-third of the fleet is on average 25 years old. Modern airliners can reduce the emission per passenger km by up to 30 per cent.

Some airlines are already collaborating with rail companies on bonus 'miles', including Continental Airlines with the US train company Amtrack and Air France with tgvair, a subsidiary of the French high speed train company.

Making climate neutrality a reality

The UN Guide underlines how many companies, cities, organizations and indeed whole countries are going that extra mile by embarking on strategies to achieve even zero emission businesses, communities and economies.

A great deal of this transition to a Green Economy is being federated and empowered under the banner of UNEP's Climate Neutral Network (CN Net) which was launched in February 2008.

New Zealand, one of the CN Net founding participants and host of this year's World Environment Day, aims to source 90 per cent of electricity from renewable sources by 2025 and to halve per capita transport emissions by 2040 by using electric cars and biofuels.

The country is also pioneering ways of reducing emissions from livestock in an economy where half of greenhouse gases come from agriculture.

During the week surrounding World Environment Day, several New Zealand companies and organizations have followed the government's suit by joining CN Net.

Meridian Energy, Christchurch International Airport, popular e-commerce website Trade Me, the New Zealand Wine Company, Warren and Mahoney Architects and major non-profit association Landcare Research among others.

The idea of climate neutrality is also catching on worldwide. The CN Net includes participants from across the developing world, such as the solar-powered Chinese city of Rizhao to the entire Central American nation of Costa Rica, which is striving to achieve climate neutrality in time for its 200 years independence celebrations in 2021.

Furthermore, groups as diverse as the British football club Ipswich Town or the Swiss banking giant Credit Suisse are now aiming to reduce their greenhouse has emissions and offset the rest.

The football club, for example, worked out that it produced 3,200 tonnes of CO2 every season and successfully offset this by asking supporters to make specific pledges to save energy. Credit Suisse, in turn, has been making a gradual switch to renewable power supplies in order to reduce the three-quarters of its total emissions coming from energy use to run its offices.

"It is clear that we are glimpsing a Green Economy emerging across communities and countries, across the world. Driving this transition is the sobering science on the impacts of climate change if we fail to act, but also the abundant economic opportunities if economies become more resource efficient. Companies and consumers are demanding and acting to realize change and some countries are starting to deliver it," said Mr Steiner.

"It is now up to governments everywhere to step up to the bar and ensure that a Green Economy becomes a global, long lasting phenomenon. That level of ambition will be put to the litmus test in just 18 months when nations must agree on a new and fully formed climate convention treaty in Copenhagen in late 2009," said Mr Steiner.