How Many Trees Are Needed To Offset Your Carbon Footprint?

By Credit Suisse

Greenhouse gas emissions need to fall by 50 percent between 2020 and 2030 and reach 'net zero' by 2050 in order to meet targets set under the 2015 Paris Agreement. The global debate that surrounds climate change typically focuses on governments and companies, overlooking the ultimate driver of emissions—the consumer

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All emissions are generated ultimately to accommodate consumer behavior and spending patterns. Consumers' day-to-day activities—from taking a shower to buying products to using transport to watching television—all carry what the average person tends to underappreciate as their personal emission footprint.

This underappreciation and/or lack of understanding may, in turn, explain the difficulties in changing consumer behavior in order to reduce emissions and achieve long-term climate change targets.

How trees offer a solution

Reforestation offers potential in fighting climate change as trees are natural "capturers" of carbon dioxide (CO2), the primary culprit behind GHG emissions. Currently, approximately 30 percent of annual CO2 emissions get stored or captured by the world's forests in a process called natural sequestration. Some 47 percent of emissions remain in the atmosphere, with this share expected to grow under more extreme global warming scenarios and without aggressive reforestation plans.

Unfortunately, in just over 30 years, a global total of 420 million hectares of forest has been lost due to deforestation. Even the Amazon forest has become a net emitter of carbon. Announced reforestation plans by key countries, while positive, appear to address less than 15 percent of current annual CO2 emissions.

Lifestyle activities and their associated Treeprint

"Treeprint" refers to the number of mature trees—and their carbon-storage potential—needed in order to offset emissions associated with a certain activity. Once consumers appreciate the Treeprint necessary to counterbalance their carbon footprint, they can reduce certain activities accordingly, or plant the calculated number of trees in order to create a net carbon footprint.

The carbon footprint of some lifestyle activities—divided into eating and drinking, travel and tourism, clothing and shopping, fitness and entertainment, and domestic activities—and their associated Treeprint may be surprising. For example, switching from a steak frites meal to a vegetarian Bolognese would result in a 94 percent drop in emissions. Car-related emissions are predicted to make up 56 percent of all domestic travel-related transport emissions by the year 2030. And a white tea is 87 percent better for the environment than a latte.

There are no easy solutions to halting climate change and achieving net zero. By taking the time to understand and reduce their most environmentally intense daily activities, consumers can better appreciate their personal role in contributing to these global goals.

Credit Suisse's Treeprint—When Emissions Turn Personal report outlines how our lifestyles drive emission levels, and the changes that need to be implemented. Download the report.

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