Carbon and Water Footprints: Concepts, Methodologies and Policy Responses

Cover, PDF file

The carbon footprint of activities and products has become a popular concept as governments, businesses and individuals are increasingly aware about climate change and concerned about their own impacts on it. But despite media attention and wide public acceptance, its use as a tool to track and reduce greenhouse gas emissions has serious challenges, from its lack of universal guidelines, to ambiguity in policy responses such as offsetting.

Freshwater scarcity is becoming an important subject on environmental agendas, and with it the water footprint is gaining recognition. This footprint, born in science – to study the hidden links between human consumption and water use and between global trade and water resources management – has had a promising start, with a strict definition and methodology.

There is a tendency among practitioners to treat both footprints in a similar way. But water is not carbon, and although the two footprints have similarities, they differ in important ways and each tells its own story about pressure on the planet.

In this context, Carbon and Water Footprints first analyses the origins of the carbon and water footprints. It makes a detailed exploration of the similarities and differences of aspects such as definition, methods of measurement, spatiotemporal dimensions, components, and entities for which the footprints can be calculated. Carbon and Water Footprints then discusses the two in terms of accounting and response strategies, investigating for example the setting of sustainable caps and targets for reduction, and the problematic rebound effect encountered with increasing efficiencies.

The aim of Carbon and Water Footprints is to draw lessons from each footprint which can help society as a whole build on the two concepts. It also seeks to help decision-makers recognize the need to fully evaluate the effectiveness of a ‘solution’ to one footprint before applying it to another and potentially creating unnecessary challenges in successfully tackling environmental problems.

Back to top