The COP27 carbon footprint calculator
Each year, heads of state and climate experts meet at COP to negotiate international climate change policy. However, global summits such as COP have an environmental impact of their own due to travel, accommodation, energy, water, and waste. How should we measure and mitigate the impacts of COP to ensure that, in working to combat climate change, we do not inadvertently exacerbate it?
Last year, 60% of the greenhouse gas emissions from COP26 were attributed to international travel. Researchers from UCL have created a tool to calculate the carbon footprint of travel to this year’s COP in Sharm El-Sheikh, Egypt. It shines a spotlight on the impact of travel and provides the means to mitigate and offset this part of its footprint.
About the calculator
The COP27 carbon footprint calculator allows users to:
- Assess the benefits of road and rail vs a direct flight to Sharm El-Sheikh.
- Calculate a carbon footprint in kgCO2-e for their chosen route and transport.
- Consider just offsetting projects aligned with the UN’s sustainable development goals.
- Should I go to COP27?
There is no escaping the concrete fact that the journey with the lowest carbon footprint is no journey at all. The footprint of ‘digital delegation’, experiencing the conference online, is less than 1% of that of even the most efficient travel to Sharm El-Sheikh. In the post-pandemic era, it is time to face the reality that online delegation is a realistic alternative to in-person attendance, and should be seriously considered wherever possible.
Carbon credits are a helpful mechanism to combat climate change, but their environmental benefit is inherently uncertain. For example, consider a rainforest preservation project in Gabon. The project generates carbon credits by promising not to cut down its rainforest, but will the rainforest indefinitely remain a carbon sink? Prolonged dry seasons in the Amazon have already turned the south-eastern rainforest into a carbon source, even excluding the effects of deforestation.
Lastly, carbon credits place nature ‘on the balance sheet’ in a way that may feel uncomfortable. There’s no question that nature is currently undervalued by our society, but is a financial framework the correct tool with which to value the environment? The only way to avoid these difficult questions is not to go.
- What is 'just' offsetting?
Climate justice recognises that the communities least responsible for climate change are often those disproportionately affected by its consequences. These communities can adapt to climate change with the help of adaptation funding, but it is estimated that only 10% of climate finance makes it to the local level.
Carbon credits are central to the climate finance framework, but not all carbon credit schemes are equal in the context of climate justice. For example, consider the difference between two carbon credit schemes:
- An off-shore wind farm located in the North Sea
- A solar panel for a school in Kenya
Both schemes remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, but the solar panel also provides co-benefits of education and energy independence in Kenya, a region badly affected by worsening drought and land degradation. Through institutions such as the Gold Standard, carbon credits present an opportunity to directly fund carbon offsetting projects with co-benefits aligned with the UN’s sustainable development goals.
The tool was developed by:
- Prof. Priti Parikh
- Prof. Mark Maslin
- Ms Jhénelle Williams
- Dr Simon Chin-Yee
- Prof. Jacqueline McGlade
- Prof. Anthony Costello
- Prof. Richard Taylor
- Dr Matthew Winning
- Jonathan Barnsley