Carbon Footprinting: How Big is the problem?

Carbon footprints

Carbon footprints are a way of accounting for the total greenhouse gases (GHG) caused directly and indirectly by a person, organisation, event or product.

The most common GHG is carbon dioxide (CO2), which makes up 81% of UK GHGs.

  • Other GHGs such as methane (CH4) or nitrous oxide (N2O) are measured in ‘carbon dioxide equivalent’ (CO2e), which takes into account the diverse effects different gases have on the environment. 

A wide range of activities produce GHGs. For carbon footprinting purposes these tend to be broken down into 5 sectors:

Sources of Green house gases (GHGs), including energy generation -burning coal, oil or gas; transport - burning petrol or diesel; agriculture - methane from livestock, nitrous oxides from fertilisers; waste - methane emitted from landfill; and land use change - soil erosion and deforestation.
Sources of Green House Gases (GHGs)

We have made two carbon footprints: one for the County as a geographical area, and the other for us as an organisation. We are using these as a baseline so we can measure our success.

The County of Cambridgeshire

Our original carbon footprint report for the county was put together for us by researchers at Cambridge University Science and Policy Exchange (CUSPE) using data from Government. The full paper can be read on the Cambridgeshire Insights website. 

This report included emissions from both Cambridgeshire and neighbouring Peterborough from the year 2017.

The latest carbon emissions data from the UK Government shows that carbon emissions just from the county of Cambridgeshire were 6.89 million tonnes CO2e in 2020.

Around 31% of this was from land use, land use change and forestry (LULUCF), whilst 23% was from transport and 14% from housing. The high emissions from LULUCF are mainly due to the large amount of peatland in the county.


If in a good condition, peatland can take carbon out of the atmosphere and store it. But if damaged, peatlands can release their stored carbon back into the atmosphere.

Cambridgeshire has around 27% of England's total peatland, but accounts for 70% of the wasted (damaged) peatland in the country.

The Council's carbon footprint baseline

As an organisation, we have our own carbon footprint. This comes from the operations we undertake to provide our services to our communities.

We collated data on as many of our operations as possible, and followed the International Green House Gas Protocol and government's environmental reporting guidelines to calculate our carbon footprint. We were unable to get some of the data for indirect emissions from our supply chain, but are working on getting more of this in the future.

From the data we did get, our own Carbon Footprint for the year 2018/19 was thought to be 203,665 tonnes CO2e (gross). We have since recalculated our baseline year emissions using improved methods and better data. Our carbon footprint baseline from 2018/19 is now estimated at 234,822 tonnes CO2e (gross) or 225,338 tonnes CO2e (net). This is our baseline from which our carbon reduction targets are set.

The carbon footprint will be updated annually to monitor progress. These annual carbon reports can be viewed below.


 Full reports are available to download below. 

Year Gross Emissions Total Explanation

2018/19 (baseline year)

234,822 tonnes CO2e


225,696 tonnes CO2e

  • Very similar to the previous year reflecting that the reporting year 2019-20 was prior to the implementation of our Climate Change and Environment Strategy 2020.
2020/21 127,261 tonnes CO2
  • Less emissions due to the Covid-19 Pandemic - reduction in many council activities, especially construction.
2021/22 131,610 tonnes CO2e
  • Slight increase in emissions due to the start of the recovery from impacts of the pandemic
CCC annual ehg emissions since 2018, by source sector (all 3 scopes)
Cambridgeshire County Council carbon footprints