I Want My Rations

Who would willingly be rationed? Surely this is meant to be the age of plenty? Global warming has thrown a pretty big spanner in the works though. Carbon rationing is one way to solve it. But does it have to be so difficult?

It doesn’t. Here’s the Carbon Watchdog way – start off with your own carbon footprint, join others, help the creation of a convenient app that keeps it simple, help push for action in your local area. Then we scale it up once the ball starts rolling.

If everyone on the planet reduced their carbon footprint to the sustainable amount, then that carbon ration is what everyone should aim for, fair and square. How can we do that though in the industrialised countries when our footprint is 10 to 20 times the fair carbon ration?


If you watch your carbon footprint or have even a modicum of what is known as ‘carbon literacy’, then great stuff, you are already doing carbon rationing for yourself. Knowing what your footprint is is a bit of pre-requisite if you want to reduce it.

There are numerous carbon footprint calculators. Most of them will tell you how many tonnes of CO2 you emit and then try to get you to offset the amount – I wrote here why offsetting is a sticking plaster that doesn’t really address the long term problem: https://carbonwatchdog.org/offsetting/

To make it convenient though, we want a carbon footprint app that runs on our mobile phones. Carbon Watchdog likes this one:

Maybe even better would be one that can be connected to things like our energy provider or our supermarket till receipt.


The problem with carbon footprints is that it is difficult to work out what to do once you’ve nailed the low hanging fruit – air travel for instance. By joining a local carbon watchdog group, you can share the knowledge and experience with like-minded people and boost your efforts and personal satisfaction at your progress.

Here at Carbon Watchdog, setting up a carbon watchdog group as a type of citizens assembly is underway. Get in touch via the Contact page to join up.

The charity Rational Carbon has just started out mid-2020 with the goal of supporting local carbon watchdog groups in the UK by providing an easily accessible way of finding out where all your CO2 emissions are happening. Only if you know what the carbon footprint of the products you buy or the services you use are, will you be able to work out where you can best and most conveniently reduce your own footprint.

Regional or City-based Carbon Rations Scheme

Local groups of voluntary low-carbon-lifestyle people aim to get local businesses and town or city councils involved as well. This is where it really gets interesting – there are so many different facets to carbon rations or “carbon allowances” or personal carbon trading as it is also known. It has so much potential for CO2 emissions reduction.

In the city of Lahti, Finland, the city council has set up a voluntary carbon rationing scheme called “Citicap”, referring to the citizens’ cap-and-trade scheme, all possible over their mobiles. They give their participants 25kg CO2 rations per week and offer rewards if people keep under that.


Climate change will not be sorted once and for all if only half of us are interested. If governments make it mandatory for everyone, they would be putting their nations on the straight and narrow path to zero emissions. We’ve used rations before during wartime and now, faced with threats of a similar magnitude due to climate change, it’s time for it again.

If voluntary regional or city-based carbon rationing schemes have great potential, then at a national scale, the possibilities are fantastic. Using a carbon currency based on carbon rations, with citizens driving the energy transition through the whole economy and demanding comprehensive CO2 emission reductions in all products and services, the targets and goals of the 2015 Paris Climate Agreement look achievable again.

We’ve put together a policy proposal called Total Carbon Rationing that shows how.

Global Carbon Rationing

Getting the world to do global carbon rationing is an awesome endeavour. Yet that’s exactly what the United Nations Climate Conventions up until Copenhagen 2010 were all about (the UN Framework Conventions on Climate Change COPs or “Conference of Parties”).

This UNFCCC plan for multi-national carbon rationing was called the Contraction and Convergence Initiative or “C&C”, a plan which was based on fair carbon rations for each person on the planet.

It was never implemented though. After 20 years of trying, the UN climate convention in Copenhagen, Denmark in 2010 failed to reach unanimous agreement. The UN realised how doomed its attempts were to create a top-down agreement between all nations on a radical, planned, step-wise energy transition away from CO2-emitting fossil fuels.

Instead, the UN sought only unanimous agreement on a global goal – which they achieved with the Paris 2015 Agreement: to aim to keep total global warming to 1.5°C / 2.7°F, with no specific mandatory agreement over how much and how soon CO2 emissions would be reduced.

The UN C&C initiative is still there though, and this is how it would work – in a world which decided it was necessary.

Contraction stands for the steady reduction in CO2 emissions that each nation would agree to. The richer countries would take on more responsibility for reducing their emissions faster. The countries with the largest historic emissions would also take on more responsibility, maybe through sharing and subsidising investment in green infrastructure with other countries.

Convergence stands for the way that all nations’ per capita emissions would gradually converge to equality. There would be a date set in the future at which point all citizens in all countries would be allocated the same CO2 emissions allowance, or at least their government would be on their behalf.

Carbon currency based on carbon rations reduces carbon footprints