What can individual people do to meet Paris agreement targets

We recently received an interesting reader request to talk about how individuals can commit to the Paris Climate agreement in the same ways as countries have. Although you can’t sign the literal Paris Climate Agreement, you can do what many cities and states have done in lieu of the agreement and vow to follow the terms on your own. 

If you are serious about cutting your carbon footprint, following the steps outlined in the Paris agreement has a lot of benefits. The agreement was designed for large countries where change takes time, which means it is perfect for giving you time to find ways to alter your habits. 

If you want to create your own mini Paris Agreement to follow, here’s some recommendations on how to get started. 

Figure out your carbon footprint 

Before you can do anything, you need to know what you are up against. There is plenty of free carbon footprint calculators out there that can give you an idea of how big your carbon footprint is. I recommend using two or more of them and finding an average, as they do not always do a good job of letting you see the full picture. 

Once you know your carbon footprint, you can set goals for reducing it. 

Write down your goals 

The Paris Climate Agreement was careful to avoid strict demands or tell anyone how to go about cutting emissions. Instead, they allow countries to set their own reduction goals and decide how best to implement them. In your own home, you can do the same. 

Most countries are pledging to decrease their carbon emissions by a certain percentage. These reductions can be as little as 4% (Iran) or as much as 89% (Nambia, with conditions such as financial aid from developed countries) and there is plenty of time to get it done in. These goals are to be met by 2030. 

While it might be tempting to say you want to be carbon free by 2030, you may want to start by aiming for these modest goals, such as cutting your carbon footprint by 25%. If you succeed earlier, you can always set a new goal. Once you have got a carbon reduction to aim for, it’s time to figure out how you’re going to do that. 

Reducing your carbon footprint 

Once you know your carbon footprint and have a reduction goal, now comes figuring out how to meet those targets. There are thousands of ways to do this. Not all of them will apply to you, and you may not be ready for some, while others you find easy.

It is not for me or anyone else to tell you what areas to cut, but here are some ideas.

  • Use public transport or a bike to get to work at least once a week 
  • Shut your computer down at night 
  • Replace energy sapping appliances
  • Drink water from the tap 
  • Cancel your junk mail 
  • Switch lights off when you are not in the room 
  • Eat low on the food chain 
  • Compost food scraps 
  • Buy less
  • Use reusables whenever possible
  • Grow your own food
  • Write to companies and politicians to press for larger change

It’s impossible to say how much these things help without knowing your lifestyle. If you only drive your car once a week to the grocery store, cutting your car emissions more is not going to be as helpful as conducting an energy audit in your home.

Likewise, if you’re sweating over your car emissions but can’t really help them, don’t focus on that area first. Start with what ever is easiest for you, and trim things down one tiny bit at a time.

Consider carbon offsets

 Realistically, the best way to help the environment is to reduce your output. That means lowering your carbon emissions directly. Unfortunately, not all our emissions can be removed, and certainly not right away.

This is part of why the Paris Climate agreement allows countries a period of time to lower emissions. You can help right away however, by purchasing quality carbon offsets if you can afford them. It is important to review carbon offset websites carefully, to make sure that the carbon offsets are genuinely lowering carbon emissions.

Some carbon offset companies are misleading about how much carbon is removed by their programs, take credit for carbon that would have never been emitted in the first place, or lie about projects completely. If the scheme is to provide energy efficient light bulbs in developing countries, would they have gotten them anyway? If they would, it is not a real offset.

We use carbonfootprint.com for Rinexii’s carbon offsets, but we view them a bit like buying prayers from a medieval church rather than an actual carbon reduction. It helps us right away, but for our own personal satisfaction we want to reduce our own carbon personally.

The easiest way to tell whether a carbon offset is high quality or not is to look for certification that assures its quality. Examples of this could be the American Carbon Registry, the Climate Action Reserve, the Gold Standard, or the Verified Carbon Standard.

Carbon offsets are not the answer

While carbon offsets are a good way to help put the breaks on your carbon emissions right away, they should not be your only answer. You should still work to reduce your own personal emissions if you want to get in line with the Paris Climate agreement as an individual.

Even if your changes are just a drop in the bucket, they still help. Not only can you make a difference by lowering your own emissions, you may have a ripple effect as others learn from your example.

One final point

This article is specifically for a reader interested in committing to the Paris Climate agreement but that doesn’t mean you have to do the same in order to help the environment. The biggest changes we can make are to keep contacting companies and politicians to press for bigger changes.

We contacted the NRDC for this article, and they directed us to a wonderful page on their website that gives recommendations on how to speak out for climate change. We highly recommend browsing it for tips on how you can help advocate for change outside of your home.

Even if you can’t cut how much you drive, or live in a food dessert and can’t reduce your plastic waste, you can still help as an individual. Keep asking for change, and don’t stress if you can’t be carbon neutral until you live in an environment that will let you do so.

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