Carbon Allowances

This was the Age of Plenty. No-one ever questioned how much they consumed, or how much CO2 they caused, until global warming threw a spanner. Now we are realising that things need to be different, and the change to a low carbon lifestyle doesn’t have to be bad.

Here’s the EcoCounts way – start off with your own carbon footprint, join others, help gather the data, prototype the creation of a convenient app that makes it simple to track your CO2 emissions, help push for action in your local area and build community. Then we scale it up.

If everyone on the planet had a sustainable carbon footprint to a sustainable level, that’s the amount of CO2 emissions we should aim for. How can we do that though in the industrialised countries when our footprint is 10 to 20 times the fair amount?


If you watch your carbon footprint or have even a modicum of what is known as ‘carbon literacy’, then great stuff, you are already managing your own carbon allowance. But only if you know the carbon footprint of the products you buy or the services you use will you be able to work out where you can conveniently reduce your own footprint.

There are numerous calculators on the net. Most will tell you how many tonnes of CO2 you emit and then try to get you to offset the amount – but that’s a sticking plaster that doesn’t address the long term problem – for more on that see

So we want to avoid that while making it convenient. We want a carbon footprint app that runs on our mobile phones with our actual, personal carbon data, not some vague generalisation. Maybe even better would be one that could get the data automatically from things like our energy provider or our supermarket till receipt. That’s the kind of technology we’ve got in the pipeline.


Even once you have the data, a problem with carbon footprints is that it is difficult to work out what to do once you’ve nailed the low hanging fruit like air travel or using coal in your fireplace. By joining a local eco & sustainability group like EcoCounts, you can share knowledge and experience with like-minded people and boost your efforts and personal satisfaction at your progress. We started out in mid-2020 with the goal of supporting these kinds of groups in North London, in particular by providing ways of finding out where all our CO2 emissions are happening.

Regional or City-based Emissions Reduction Schemes

Local groups of voluntary low emissions participants will have little trouble getting local businesses and town or city councils involved as well. This is where it really gets interesting. By turning our carbon footprint app into a proper carbon account app, we can give ourselves a carbon allowance and spend it from day to day, use it to do business with carbon-friendly local businesses or the council, for rewards, to buy more from each other if we run out, or to sell our excess if we are good – this is known as personal carbon trading.

There are so many different facets to carbon allowances or personal carbon trading and it has great potential for CO2 emissions reduction. In the city of Lahti, Finland, the city council set up a voluntary carbon reduction scheme called “Citicap”, referring to the citizens’ cap-and-trade scheme, all possible over their mobiles. They give their participants 25kg CO2 allowance 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 involved. Governments, prompted by grassroots action by groups like EcoCounts, can make it mandatory for everyone and that would put everyone on the path to zero emissions. An equivalent approach was used during wartime and now, faced with threats of a similar magnitude due to climate change, we can do even better with carbon allowances.

If voluntary regional or city-based carbon allowance schemes have great potential, then at a national scale, the possibilities are fantastic. By setting up a national carbon currency based on the carbon tokens from our allowance (see the EcoCore policy proposal), citizens would be the driving force for the energy transition through the whole of business and industry, resulting in comprehensive CO2 emission reductions in all products and services.

Since this carbon currency would be exchangeable and create a cash price that everyone can use to buy more if they need or sell if they have a surplus, it opens up huge possibilities for fighting climate change and driving the energy transition to renewables. While it is a big ask, it would take climate action to a new level of efficiency and effectiveness, and make the targets and goals of the 2015 Paris Climate Agreement look achievable again.

Global Carbon Allowances (or Carbon Budgets)

A great advantage of such a concrete national carbon price is that it can be used to compare with other countries. The price would be created in the same way in every nation that adopted the framework. Typically complex climate negotiations can focus on dividing up what’s left of the global carbon budget by value (see The Carbon Budget Made Simple), based on countries’ own carbon prices. Nations can bring whatever other financial figures they have to the table: historical emissions, international debt, technology transfer, climate reparations. They can discuss any proposal with hard numbers and clarity around its economic impact.

This type of global climate deal would have a massive advantage over the current style of climate negotiations because it doesn’t require a unanimous decision from all nations on the planet. It can start with whichever nations are willing.

Robust numbers and fair division of effort is what the United Nations Climate Conventions up until Copenhagen 2009 were all about (the UN Framework Conventions on Climate Change COPs or “Conference of Parties”).

Getting the world to agree a global carbon budget in carbon allowances that matches the climatological global carbon budget is an awesome yet worthy endeavour.

This UNFCCC plan for multi-national emissions reduction was called the Contraction and Convergence Initiative or “C&C”, a plan based on fair allocation of intended emissions reduction for each person on the planet.

It was never implemented though. After 20 years of trying, the UN climate convention in Copenhagen, Denmark in 2009 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.

Just this text illustrates the problem with this issue though – it is all-encompassing! Does this lay out a way forward though? Get in touch and leave a comment, or better yet, join up!

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