Marcel Kooter is a highly experienced senior business leader. He has extensive knowledge of fuels and lubricants and a particular interest in sustainable solutions that make better use of limited resources. This article will explore the issue of carbon emissions and their damaging impact on the environment, outlining how a carbon footprint is measured.
Carbon emissions impact the environment in a variety of different ways. Carbon and other greenhouse gas emissions accumulate in the Earth’s atmosphere, causing climate change and global warming.
The greenhouse effect is a natural process, with the sun warming the surface of the Earth. However, when greenhouse gasses such as carbon dioxide, ozone, methane, water vapor, and nitrous oxide accumulate, they trap the sun’s heat, causing the average global temperature to rise – culminating in global warming.
Carbon emissions are largely created by human activities. They are crucial to the climate change conversation, accounting for 82% of total greenhouse gas emissions in the United States.
The term ‘carbon footprint’ describes the amount of carbon a person, activity, event, or organization releases into the Earth’s atmosphere. Where there is insufficient biocapacity to absorb carbon emissions created by burning fossil fuels, carbon accumulates in the atmosphere, causing global warming.
When reported within the context of the Ecological Footprint, the tonnes of carbon dioxide emissions produced are expressed as the amount of biologically productive land required to sequester those carbon emissions, providing an indicator of the biocapacity needed to neutralize emissions from burning fossil fuels.
Carbon sequestration is not the sole solution to the carbon dilemma. Measuring the carbon footprint in land area simply provides an indicator of how much biocapacity is required to offset untreated carbon waste to avoid carbon building up in the Earth’s atmosphere.
Globally, as of 2014, each person had an average carbon footprint of approximately 5 tonnes CO2e. Due to significant differences in daily activities, average carbon footprints can vary hugely from one country to another. The Nature Conservancy estimates that the average annual carbon footprint of a US citizen is somewhere in the region of 16 tons, representing one of the highest rates in the world.
However, for America there is a glimmer of hope, with scientists estimating that even a heavily populated region like New York City could potentially eliminate the carbon footprint of its buildings by 2050, potentially driving down the city’s total carbon emissions by up to 30%.
Businesses all over the world are coming under increasing pressure from environmentally conscious consumers to embrace sustainable choices, reducing their carbon footprint and in some cases even bringing it down to net zero.