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Carbon-cutting app aims to help Londoners ease into net zero future

·3 min read
<span>Photograph: Gianni Muratore/Alamy</span>
Photograph: Gianni Muratore/Alamy

Councils are planning to deploy version of Finnish online tool that helps people monitor carbon footprint

For those who want to be part of a zero carbon future but find the prospect of giving up flying, ditching the car and turning vegan daunting, help may be at hand. A Finnish-made online tool that promises to give users the key to their own “sustainable good life” by taking control of their carbon footprint is set to be launched in the UK.

London Councils, the body that represents all London boroughs, is looking at developing a version of the tool, which aims to be helpful rather than hectoring, letting people create their own tailor-made path to reducing their CO2 output rather than giving out blanket prescriptions such as stopping flying or eating meat.

Its developers say users in Finland who answer the tool’s 20-odd questions and commit to change commonly reduce their carbon footprint by 30% in 12 months, through simple steps such as buying secondhand clothes, cycling more and eating locally produced food.

Related: Q&A: how fast do we need to cut carbon emissions?

Philip Glanville, the mayor of Hackney and chair of London Councils’ transport and environment committee, said the tool could help show citizens that “even small tweaks to their daily lives” could contribute to tackling the climate crisis.

“The vast majority of our residents are motivated to help prevent climate change – our recent polling suggests 87% feel this way,” he said. “But Londoners can only make the choices they are given, and how important government and businesses are in enabling real sustainable choices that fit into their lives.”

Finland has agreed to reduce its CO2 emissions by 15 megatonnes by 2030 compared with 1990 levels. According to calculations by Sitra,the Finnish innovation fund that developed the tool, if every household has two people reducing their carbon footprint by 20%, that reduction alone would result in 73% of the national reduction required.

“There’s a misconception that it doesn’t really matter what you do as an individual, how you eat, how you live, how you move or what type of products and services that you buy,” said Markus Terho, from Sitra. “Studies show that individual action has a significant potential to lower CO2 impact on a global level.”

The average annual carbon footprint of a Londoner is 8,345kg of CO2 emissions, according to the Global Carbon Atlas, so if two people in every one of its 3.6m households reduced their carbon footprint by 20%, this would mean an emission reduction of 12 megatonnes.

Markus Terho, from Sitra, said achieving a carbon footprint reduction of as much as 20% “is easy to do, anyone can do it and it’s very fast”.

The tool, which launched in Finland in 2018, has gone viral in the Nordic nation of 5.5 million people, with 1.2m tests taken. While only about 24% of its population are motivated enough by climate fears to change the way they live, the majority think other things such as wellbeing, health, saving money and time, and fun are more important, says Terho.

“The beauty of this is that everyone can find their own way to live a good life that is sustainable,” said Terho. “You can find your own unique combination of actions that create meaningful reduction.”

Sitra is an independent body that has a mission to future-proof the Nordic nation, funded by an €84m endowment gifted by the Finnish government to mark 50 years of independence in 1967. Terho said another 17 countries were looking to adapt the approach, and the organisation estimated this had the potential to take as much as a gigatonne of carbon out of the atmosphere by 2030.

Terho stressed that engaging citizens was only a small part of the solution. “Activating citizens on a large scale will bring CO2 reductions and push governments, cities, municipalities and companies to move quicker,” he said. “​​Mitigating climate change is such a huge global societal challenge that everyone’s contribution is needed.”

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