Carbon is the backbone element of nature or simply the building blocks of anything living or dead. It is present in the environment in multiple forms, some good, some moderate and some harmful. Understanding the whereabouts of carbon in the environment is important.

You may have read about the greenhouse effect, global warming, carbon footprints and other terms related to carbon emissions. But what or how much do we actually understand them? What is their background? What’s the significance of these terms?

If you search the web for answers, reports, data, statistics, and articles with advance contents that are hard to understand and eat up your time. So here’s a quick post to give you a basic understanding of some crucial terms connected to Carbon emissions.

Forms and sources of Carbon emissions

Carbon emissions imply every form of carbon, whether CO2, CO or even fly-ash that are released into the atmosphere and environment through various natural and anthropogenic (Manmade) sources.

Carbon present in the environment through natural processes is usually formed through various Biogeochemical processes and the amount of these emissions are usually balanced through a cyclic flow of carbon across various zones of the biosphere. But it is the emissions caused by manmade activities and sources that cause the actual harm to the environment.

Natural sources of carbon emissions commonly include:

  • Volcanic eruptions
  • Forest fires

Anthropogenic (Man-made) sources of carbon emissions commonly include:

  • Transportation
  • The burning of fossil fuels
  • Oil Spills
  • Industrial effluents, wastes, and sewage
  • Burning of industrial and agricultural wastes

CO2 equivalents (CO2e)

Carbon dioxide equivalents or simply CO2 equivalents (CO2) are every other has apart from CO2 itself that have individual or combined negative effects equivalent to CO2 like the Greenhouse effect, Global warming, and ozone layer depletion.

All greenhouse gases are categorized as CO2 equivalents.

Greenhouse effect

Numerous human activities like the burning of fossil fuels for power generation, Carbonaceous emissions from various modes of transports, domestic and agricultural activities release Carbon Dioxide (CO2) and Carbon Dioxide equivalents (CO2e) into the atmosphere. As more and more of these gases accumulate in the air, they combine to form an invisible gaseous envelope over the Earth’s Stratosphere.

This gaseous envelope traps all the radiated Infrared radiations from the Earth’s surface and reflected UV radiations and prevents them from escaping into the atmosphere.

This mechanism is similar to what happens in greenhouse plantations and is hence called the Greenhouse effect. As a result of this heat-trapping process, the Earth’s atmosphere begins to unnaturally heat up, causing the phenomenon of Global warming.

Global warming

Global warming is not just real, but dynamic as well. Which means that it is changing (Or rather increasing) with every passing moment, which is a major international concern.

Global warming is the unnatural heating of the Earth’s surface and it’s atmosphere due to the excess emission of CO2 and other Greenhouse gases also known as CO2 equivalents (CO2e), that trap the planet’s heat and prevents it from escaping into the atmosphere.

Numerous human activities like the burning of fossil fuels for power generation, Carbonaceous emissions from various modes of transports, domestic and agricultural activities release Carbon Dioxide (CO2) and Carbon Dioxide equivalents (CO2e) into the atmosphere. Thus causing unnatural heating of the atmosphere.


Kyoto Protocol (1992)

The Kyoto Protocol was an international treaty signed by 192 countries that came forward to discuss the concerns regarding Global warming and deduce measures to prevent it. The two main agendas of the conference were

  1. Global warming is increasing.
  2. CO2 emissions primarily from human activities is causing this.

The Kyoto Protocol listed these 6 gases as major Greenhouse gases adding to the effects of Global warming.

  • Carbon Dioxide (CO2)
  • Nitrous Oxide (N2O)
  • Sulphur Dioxide (SO2)
  • Hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs)
  • Perfluorocarbons (PFCs)
  • Sulphur Hexafluoride (SF6)

Various reports by UNFCCC, IPCC, NASA, and NCAR reveal that over the past 20 years, the Earth’s average temperature has risen by around 3°F and if the current trends of CO2 and other Greenhouse gases continue, then the figure would increase to 7°F in the next 50 years.

Paris Agreement (2016)

The Paris Agreement is an agreement within the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) dealing with greenhouse gas emissions mitigation, adaptation, and finance starting in the year 2020. 195 countries across the world have signed this agreement.

According to the UNFCCC, the Paris Agreement aims at these following agendas.

Holding the increase in the global average temperature to well below 2 °C above pre-industrial levels and to pursue efforts to limit the temperature increase to 1.5 °C above pre-industrial levels, recognizing that this would significantly reduce the risks and impacts of climate change;

Increasing the ability to adapt to the adverse impacts of climate change and foster climate resilience and low greenhouse gas emissions development, in a manner that does not threaten food production;

Making finance flows consistent with a pathway towards low greenhouse gas emissions and climate-resilient development.

Carbon footprints

A carbon footprint is simply defined as any form of CO2 emitted into the atmosphere from any kind of human activity, whether big or small, whether domestic, industrial or agricultural. These emails may even be individual, community-based, by an organization or nation.

Technically, a carbon footprint is measured in tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent (tCO2e) by an individual, community or organization. Bigger the carbon footprint, more harmful it is to the environment.

Logically, the value of carbon footprint can never be zero, since there will always be some sort of CO2 emission into the environment which cannot be stopped since Carbon is the basis of every living or dead material. For example, even if we reduce using CO2 emitting sources, we will still keep emitting CO2 into the atmosphere through respiration.

Carbon credits

A carbon credit is a generic term for any tradable certificate or permits representing the right to emit one tonne of carbon dioxide or the mass of another greenhouse gas with a carbon dioxide equivalent (CO2e) equivalent to one tonne of carbon dioxide. One carbon credit is equal to one tonne of carbon dioxide, or in some markets, carbon dioxide equivalent gases.

The concept of Carbon credits was first introduced during the Kyoto Protocol in 1992, which was an international treaty to mitigate the harmful effects of Global warming.

Advantages of Carbon Credits

The concept of Carbon credits quite evidently helps keep a calculative control on the CO2 and CO2e emissions by organizations and nations.

Any organization that crosses the prescribed Carbon credits limit is liable to be penalized per carbon credit released above the limit.

This forces organizations to cut down on their CO2 emissions and encourages them to use alternatives that release lesser or no CO2 into the atmosphere.

Disadvantages of Carbon Credits

While the concept of carbon credits does have many positive points including keeping a calculative control on CO2 emissions, it does have some negative points as well that can’t be ignored.

The introduction of Carbon Credits also gave rise to the concept of carbon credits trading, which allows organizations to inter-trade carbon credits to stay on par with the credit limits and avoid a penalty if exceeded.

This allows some developed nations like the USA to buy carbon credits from developing countries like India and France so they can increase their carbon credit limit, thereby increasing their limit to emit more CO2.