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 and Peterborough

This accounts for all of the greenhouse gas emissions from Cambridgeshire and Peterborough. It 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. 

It includes emissions from the different sources described above, and showed that in 2017 the region produced 6.1 million tonnes CO2e.

Most of our emissions come from transport (39%), closely followed by  industry (27%) and  domestic buildings (21%) – mainly from our heating and electricity.

Breakdown of green house gas emissions by source, 2017. 39% Transport, 27% Commercial, 21% domestic, 7% agriculture, 4% LULUCF, 2% waste
Breakdown of green house gas emissions by source, 2017


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.  

Our carbon footprints estimate that carbon released from the County’s peat could increased our carbon footprint be up to 5 million tonnes CO2e.

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 carbon conversation factors to make 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 18/19 is 203,665 tonnes CO2e (gross). This is our baseline from which our carbon reduction targets are set.

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

Carbon footprint for Cambridgeshire County Council as an organisation. 53% purchased goods & services, 28% waste management, 4.3% buildings and utilities, 2% transport, 5% maintained schools. 7% agriculture and land use
Carbon footprint for Cambridgeshire County Council as an organisation


 Full reports are available to download below. 

Year Gross Emissions Total Explanation

2018/19 (baseline year)

203,665 tonnes CO2e


206,579 tonnes CO2e

  • Very similar to the previous year (1% increase), reflecting that the reporting year 2019-20 was prior to the implementation of our Climate Change and Environment Strategy 2020.
  • Data gaps have been reduced since last year which will contribute to the marginal increase. For example, more data was gathered for scope 3 emissions.
  • Gas consumption increased by 16% compared to the previous year, likely due to increased heating from colder weather. 
  • Other areas saw a decrease in emissions, including waste (1% decrease) and transport (5% decrease).
2020/21 113,477 tonnes CO2
  • Less emissions due to the Covid-19 Pandemic - reduction in many council activities, especially construction. This is expected to rebound as we recover from the pandemic.
  • Scope 1 and 2 emissions down 20% from last year
  •  40% reduction in total emissions
Cambridgeshire County Council carbon footprints summary
Cambridgeshire County Council carbon footprints


CCC Carbon Footprint Report 2020-21512KBpdf
Size: 512KBFile format: pdf
CCC Carbon Footprint Report 2019-20639KBpdf
Size: 639KBFile format: pdf
CCC Carbon Footprint Report 2018-19741KBpdf
Size: 741KBFile format: pdf