[MyCO2] Average French carbon footprint, how is it calculated?

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Since the last update of October 2021 by the Ministry of Ecological Transition (MTE), the carbon footprint average in France in 2019 – last year of calculation excluding COVID-19 – amounts to 9.0 tons of CO2eq per person. We explained in this LinkedIn post what was the main methodological evolution of this important update.

The method used is based on “input-output” calculations, taken from symmetrical input-output tables of national accounts, and takes into account the 3 main greenhouse gases (GHGs): fossil carbon dioxide (CO2) , methane (CH4) and nitrous oxide (N2O).

Several limits emerge from this carbon footprint calculated by the Ministry: the failure to take into account imported deforestation (because biogenic CO2), 3 other GHGs (HFCs, PFCs and SF6) and water vapor from aircraft condensation. This publication aims to explain how we have “completed” this carbon footprint, by filling these 3 identified limits, and to share our results.

Our starting point: 9.0 tCO2eq/year

The last input-output tables (TES) of the Ministry evaluate the average carbon footprint of a French person at 9.0 tCO2eq/year. These emissions are divided into 64 branches of activity or products, represented by NAF (French Activity Nomenclature) codes, and divided between private and public expenditure. We can therefore know for each “producing” branch of activity (which sells) and for each “consuming” branch (which buys) which emissions are linked to private spending and which are linked to public spending.

From this data, we establish a distribution of emission items into 5 categories, listed here from the most emissive to the least emissive:

  1. I move (transportation)
  2. I eat (food)
  3. I lodge (lodging)
  4. I buy (purchases of goods and services)
  5. Public expenditure (public services)

Our additions: +0.9 tCO2eq/year

We then add several elements to this base of 9.0 tCO2eq/year.

The first corresponds to contrails, that is to say the clouds observed behind the planes and created by the condensation of the water vapor emitted by their engines. Since these contrails are not taken into account in the carbon footprint published by the Ministère, we have added them for the sake of completeness to our footprint since they also contribute to the greenhouse effect. They are thus responsible for 186 kgCO2eq/year of GHG emissions per person, which we add to the item I move – Airplane.

We then add the emissions related to the imported deforestation (biogenic CO2) that is to say the GHG emissions generated by deforestation taking place abroad, but due to our consumption. These emissions are twofold: there are both emissions related to forest burning (instantaneous emissions) and those associated with the removal of carbon sinks (future emissions).

We rely mainly on the study Agricultural and forestry trade drives large share of tropical deforestation emissions (Pendril & al.), published in 2019 and cited by the High Council for Climate in its report Mastering the carbon footprint of France. Based on this study, we can distribute the 402 kgCO2eq/year related to imported deforestation:

  • 201 kgCO2eq/year for the category Food
  • 176 kgCO2eq /year for the category Purchases
  • 23 kgCO2eq /year for I’m staying – Construction
  • 3 kgCO2eq /year for I move – Other transport

Finally, we take into account 3 other GHGs not counted to date by the Ministry, for questions of method homogeneity and data availability: hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs), perfluorocarbons (PFCs) and sulfur hexafluoride (SF6). These gases are responsible for approximately 293 kgCO2eq/year of emissions per person once restated for imports/exports. Since these emissions are not in the official figures of the Ministry, we estimate them based on SECTEN data (published by CITEPA and distribute them based on TES (exports are taken out and imports added). This work gives the following distribution :

Gas I eat I lodge I buy I move Public expenditure Total
HFCs 136.2 38.9 18.8 50.3 41.5 285.7
SF6 0.3 2.7 1.0 0.0 0.7 4.6
PFCs 0.0 0.0 1.5 0.0 0.6 2.2
Total 136.5 41.6 21.4 50.3 42.8 292.5

Once the emissions of these 3 gases have been broken down into our 5 categories, they are allocated on a pro rata basis in the sub-categories of the graph below.

Our results

These supplements therefore add 0.9 tCO2eq to the Ministry’s official figure. Here is the graph of the French carbon footprint in 2019, evaluated by MyCO2 at 9.9 tCO2eq per person per year :

The breakdown of emissions is as follows:

  • Transport remains the main source of emissions with almost 2650 kgCO2eq/year : 77% being linked to individual motorized vehicles, including 98% for cars and 2% for two-wheelers, and 16% for airplanes.
  • Food represents 2350 kgCO2eq/year, 60% coming from the consumption of animal products.
  • Then comes the category I lodge, with 1900 kgCO2eq/year, 62% being associated with the use of gas and fuel oil (for heating and domestic hot water in particular) and 24% with construction (Gross fixed capital formation of households, which corresponds to new construction and large interview).
  • The category I buy regroup 1600 kgCO2eq/year, half of which comes from purchases related to the house and leisure (the house item therefore includes a share of materials not accounted for in GFCF).

Finally, 1400 kgCO2eq/year are associated with public spending, whether for administration and defense (32%), education (31%), health (16%) or infrastructure (14%).

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