According to new research, the peak year in producing carbon dioxide per capita was 2012. It means that while since 2012 the total amount of carbon dioxide added to the atmosphere has increased, the share of each of us has declined. Therefore, we, as individuals, have had some positive impacts. Could have we done better? Maybe! But what matters is the fact that we have less carbon footprint than the last decade. Considering that the total population has always increased and is expected to grow, the only way to decarbonize the environment is by focusing on the individual footprints. This is specifically crucial to know that we have less carbon footprint today. If you think carefully about your lifestyle, you see that the trend is towards using more and more energy: larger refrigerators, more and more cellphones, larger houses, and so on. The other side of the coin is we have our windows better insulated, many of us ride on electric cars, many of us do not use disposable bottles and so on. According to research, the latter outweighs the former modern lifestyle. Please see the figure below that shows how individual carbon footprint has declined since 2012.
Figure 1: carbon dioxide per capita since 1970. Credit: www.forbes.com
As you can see in the figure, the carbon dioxide per capita can be projected towards the future. This is done in some scientific centers, such as the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). Different reasonable scenarios (not predictions) for the future can be defined. These scenarios are based on our current status and likely trends in the future. For instance, in this figure, the red line is a scenario that is based on “business as usual” mindset. This means that governments take no action to control climate change. The green line is the scenario based on the fulfillment of the commitments promised by governments (such as the Paris Agreement). As can be seen, even the red scenario projects a peak as large as the 2012 peak after two decades from now. This means that even with minimal contribution from governments, we can play a key role in declining carbon footprint.
There are many other possible scenarios as well. Some of these scenarios have different projections. They indicate a significant increase in per capita carbon footprint. Currently, it is hardly possible to rely on one single scenario even if most scenarios are leaning towards an increase (or decrease) of carbon dioxide. That is why an ensemble of scenarios should be used in scientific analyses. However, the fact that observations (not future scenarios) show that from 2012, our carbon footprint has declined is good news and we should hope that with adopting (or keeping up) a green lifestyle, the per capita carbon footprint continues to decline which means a step forward towards controlling climate change effects.