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Personalizing Carbon-Footprint from Our Travels to Mobilize Climate Action

We move from one place to another. From one point within a city to another. From one city to another. From one country to another. Such movement is difficult to avoid, but did you know that such travel has massive environmental impact?

For some people, traveling accounts for a substantial portion of their daily time use. An average Jakartan spends more than 400 hours to commute annually using public and private means of transportation. These vehicles produce pollution and emissions, leading to air quality deterioration and climate change respectively.

Due to the ever increasing amount of vehicles in Jakarta, the megacity’s transport sector generates the largest share of greenhouse gas emissions. In 2012, it accounted for 46% of the city’s total emissions, and by 2030, it is predicted to only get slightly lowered to 43%. Not only that such emissions contribute to climate change, but also the air pollution contributed by the transport sector has led to substantial health risk, which decrease workers’ productivity and increase healthcare costs.

Jakarta regularly becomes one of the top five most polluted cities in the world. Citizens and civil society organizations have urged the Jakarta Government to make substantial actions to reduce air pollution. Consequently, Governor’s Instruction No. 66/2019 on Air Quality Control was enacted to tackle air pollution by expanding odd-even policy, revitalizing public transportation, tightening the regulation and monitoring of emission and pollution, shifting to renewable energy technologies, implementing congestion charging, and pioneering emission offset mechanism to plant trees.

These policies, though, are not without criticism. For instance, people are complaining about the extension of the odd-even policy as it restricts their mobility. This might imply that people still do not place emphasis on environmental issues. One survey noted that one in five Indonesians deny that humans cause climate change. With this reality, it is important to personalize climate change issues and make it easy for people to participate in climate action. Even though individual emissions are not as high as companies’ emissions, people can still influence private sector’s investment and government’s policies to be more sustainable.

Emission Tracking: Knowing your Carbon Footprint

Carbon dioxide (CO2), perhaps the most well-known greenhouse gas emission, is one of the easiest types of emission that could be measured. In transport sector, calculation of CO2 is determined by vehicle characteristics (e.g. type of modes, fuel efficiency) and travel characteristics (e.g. travel length, travel frequency). The longer the distance and the higher fuel consumption, then the higher the emissions would be. Hence, those who drive and ride personal cars or motorcycles would produce more emissions than those who take public transport. For example, it is estimated that you will produce more than 4 kg of CO2 if you travel 20 km by car or 40 km by bus or 60 km by train filled with only a few passengers. The amount of emissions that are produced would be even more substantial given the high number of populations in Jakarta and their need to move around.

Emission Offsetting: Planting and Adopting Trees

We know that greenhouse gas emissions in the atmosphere need to be reduced, requiring a comprehensive policy response. That said, a window of opportunity is open to make up for the emissions we produce. This is called carbon emission offset, and this is how it works: we pay for the emissions we produce when we travel.

There are several ways to offset emissions, and one that is quite simple and affordable is by planting and adopting trees. WRI Indonesia’s calculation shows that we only need one mature mango tree for every 1,500 km trip by car or 2,500 km trip by motorcycle or 8,000 km trip by bus. In the future, when public have become more aware of the importance of reducing emissions, are more receptive to offsetting, and when other technologies become available, various other choices to offset emissions will emerge.

Tracking your emission and determine how many tree(s) are required to offset is simple. For instance, if you commute daily for work with a car for 20 km round trip, it is estimated that you will produce 1,300 kg CO2 emissions annually. If we convert this to trees, you only need 3 mango trees to offset the carbon you produced, though this number could be different depending on the type of tree you are planting. The emissions will become lower if you travel by combining private cars and public buses or train. So, let’s say from a total of 20 km round trip, you use a taxi for only 5 km and ride a train for the rest of the journey. This leads to an estimated 900 kg CO2 annually, depending on the type of car and train passengers. Finally, the number of emissions will be the lowest if you use public transport for the entire trip. To easily engage further on such calculation, there are various mobile app to track emissions produced from your travel.

The method to calculate and offset emissions from transport activities has increasingly become common and being applied in individual as well as events. For instance, during ISOCARP World Planning Congress in September 2019 in Jakarta and Bogor, WRI Indonesia worked with its global organizer and Indonesian Association of Planners (IAP) to make the conference carbon-neutral. We informed the delegates about emission they emit as well as encourage them to offset it. Throughout the event, it is estimated that each participant who use local transport (train, taxi, and bus) would produce an average of 19.5 kg CO2 for a week. As more than 500 delegates attended the conference, they would emit more than 9.5 ton CO2 for a week, equivalent to at least 2,000 mango trees for the entire year.

Now you know your transport is polluting the environment and how many tree(s) are needed to absorb it. As we are already on the edge of the climate crisis, every individual should double their effort daily, by simply start offsetting through planting and adopting trees. With 30 million residents in the Jakarta Metropolitan Area, emissions from the transport sector is huge, and individual carbon offset won’t be sufficient. Both government as well as private sectors should consider integrating the emission tracking and offsetting mechanism into their daily operations. By doing so, they can mobilize local climate action amongst citizens and customers, and be a force for positive change.

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