What is Carbon Footprint

What is Carbon Footprint

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What is carbon emission, the causes and how you can measure it

Key Takeaways

  • Carbon Footprint is the total measure of greenhouse gases released in the atmosphere.
  • Greenhouse gases (GHG) keep the earth warm and make it habitable for living organisms.
  • An increase in carbon dioxide – a GHG, can lead to increase in global temperature.
  • Carbon emissions can be natural or human-made.
  • Check your carbon footprint using carbon footprint calculators and take measures to reduce it.

Our actions have consequences that affect the planet. Many of the things we do release harmful gases into the atmosphere and make the earth warmer while disrupting weather and climate patterns, vegetation, and human health. The term carbon footprint is increasingly being used in association with climate change. Let us find out what is meant by carbon footprint, how you can measure it, and understand the common sources of carbon emissions.

What Is Carbon Footprint? What are GHGs?

Carbon footprint is defined as the measure of the total greenhouse gas emissions released into the atmosphere. These emissions are caused by the choices and actions of an individual, company or a nation. Carbon footprint is measured in terms of carbon dioxide emissions (CO2).

While speaking about carbon footprint, it is essential to understand greenhouse gases (GHGs). GHGs are responsible for keeping our planet warm. Without them, the earth would be uninhabitable. Water vapour, methane from natural gas, nitrous oxide from soils and oceans, ozone, and carbon dioxide are its main constituents. Greenhouse gases protect us from the sun's radiation and regulate the internal heat on the planet. But a significant increase in greenhouse gases also represents a risk.

Simplifying Carbon Footprint

If you have ever wondered 'what is my carbon footprint', here is an example to help you understand.

A small fruit you eat; produces a carbon footprint since the fruit was most likely transported to your local fruitmonger via a goods-carrying truck. The car you drive leaves not just a carbon footprint but other polluting gases. The food you cook requires gas, a household source of GHG emissions. You may believe that you can reduce your carbon footprint by using an electric induction stove. Well, electricity is produced by burning fossil fuels. Want an eco-friendly product delivered to your doorstep? The product is likely transported through a series of fuel-burning vehicles. Hence, today, it is nearly impossible to eradicate carbon footprint.

Direct And Indirect Carbon Emissions

Carbon footprint is categorised under three scopes:

  • Scope 1 or Direct Emissions: Direct GHG comes from sources where the fuel is burnt on site. Personal vehicles and gas stoves are examples of scope 1 emissions.
  • Scope 2 or Indirect Emissions: Companies that emit carbon, but purchase electricity are examples of scope 2 emissions.
  • Scope 3 or Other Indirect Emissions: All indirect emissions which are the result of a companies' activities fall under Scope 3 emissions, such as the production of goods, transportation of purchased fuel, and at an individual scale; using those produced goods.

What are some examples of Carbon Emission Sources?

Greenhouse gases comprise emissions from both natural and human-made activities. Let us see what those are:

Natural Sources of Carbon Emissions

Gases spewed from oceans and volcanic eruptions, the carbon dioxide released from plants, nitrogen released from organic matter decomposition, etc., are natural sources of greenhouse gases. However, these gases are naturally offset by sinks like photosynthesis, creation of peat and ocean absorption. Human activities release carbon into the atmosphere more rapidly than these natural sinks could offset. Hence, the increased carbon footprint.

  • Oceans & Volcanoes

    Ocean makes up 70% of the earth, and the ocean floor consists of vast carbon dioxide and methane reservoirs. These gases eventually make their way up to the ocean surface and get out in the atmosphere. The good thing, however, is that oceans are a natural sink and reabsorb carbon. The ocean also absorbs human-made carbon emissions.

    When a volcano erupts, it releases ash, dust, and gases from the earth's deep layers. Carbon dioxide is amongst the gases that get released.

  • Respiration

    Humans and animals respire and produce energy. This energy allows us to move and grow. Oxygen helps break down sugars and proteins, releasing water and carbon dioxide as byproducts.

  • Decomposition

    Organic matter gets broken down and releases carbon as well. Organisms under the soil break down organic materials such as carcasses, dead plants, etc., and let out carbon dioxide. Respiration also takes place under the soil, and tree roots, bacteria, burrowers etc., emit carbon dioxide.

Remember, natural sources of GHG keep the planet warm but also get reabsorbed by plants and natural sinks. So, the net emission equals almost zero. Sadly, non-natural emissions are not self-absorbing, and natural sinks must come to the rescue. The large intake from these activities harms the oceans and lands.

Human-made Sources of Carbon Emissions

What is the carbon emission generated directly by human activities and needs? The Industrial Revolution of the 1700s led to an increase in the burning of fossil fuels. Here are the reasons why:

Fuel Combustion

The primary source of carbon emissions is burning fossil fuels, contributing to almost 90% of the emissions. The combustion of fossil fuels turns energy into heat and electricity, which power vehicles for daily transportation, household appliances, and industrial machinery.

  • Coal, natural gas and oil are the commonly used fossil fuels, out of which coal produces the most amount of carbon emissions as byproducts. Electricity, generated from coal, is a necessity in every household and industry. From charging your mobile phone watching TV to manufacturing clothes and food productions, electricity is required, leading to a heavy carbon footprint.
  • Another human source of carbon emissions is transportation. You need to power your vehicle with petrol or diesel, which is derived from fossil fuel, be it transporting yourself from one city to another or be it transportation of goods from the north of the country to the south.
  • The aviation sector is probably the largest of all transportation sectors in terms of fuel consumption – over a lakh of liters per flight.
  • Marine transport is also responsible for over 15% of carbon emissions from transportation alone. Compared to road transport, the number of ships running every day is far less. However, ships are powered by unrefined fuel that leaves quite a large carbon footprint.
  • More than 20% of fossil fuels burnt are used in industries. All manufacturing processes produce many GHGs, not only carbon. The fuel creates heat or steam at various manufacturing stages.

Deforestation and Land Use Changes

Natural environments like forests, river basins or seashores are converted into areas for human settlements. Forests get cut down or burnt, emitting carbon and other harmful substances. While carbon is present in the soil, it is a natural carbon source. When the soil gets disrupted, it loses its carbon sinking abilities.

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What Is My Carbon Footprint?

You can easily estimate your personal carbon footprint by following the guidelines put in place by the International Organisation for Standardisation (ISO) - 14064 that quantify GHG emissions.

Step 1: First, you must know how much CO2 is released from fuel, gas and electricity.

Energy/Fuel

CO2 per qty

Petrol

2.296 Kg per litre

Diesel

2.653 Kg per litre

Liquified Petroleum Gas (LPG)

2.983 Kg per Kg

Electricity

0.85 Kg per KWh

Step 2: Collect household data

  • Petrol/Diesel: Add the total litres of fuel consumed in a year.
  • LPG: Your typical gas cylinder has a 14 kg gas weight. Multiply the number of cylinders used in a year by 14.
  • Electricity: Find the number of units mentioned in your monthly electricity bill. Multiply the monthly units by 12.

Step 3: Multiple data by the respective CO2 emissions

  • Electricity: Input value X 0.85 = Output value in (Kg of CO2)
  • Petrol: Input Value X 2.296 = Output value in (Kg of CO2)
  • Diesel: Input Value X 2.653 = Output value in (Kg of CO2)
  • LPG: Input Value X 2.983 = Output value in (Kg of CO2)

Adding all four output values will give you your carbon footprint. Divide this value by 1000 and find the carbon footprint in tonnes.

Final Note

Now that you know what is meant by carbon footprint, you can infer that we and everything around us emits carbon. We, as humans, exhale carbon dioxide, industries release carbon emissions, fuel combustion required to power all machinery emit carbon and the list goes on. At digibank by DBS, we aim to reduce our carbon footprint in any way we can. You can get instant access to most of our services online; thus, eliminating the need to burn resources required to visit a physical branch.

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*Disclaimer: This article is for information purposes only. We recommend you get in touch with your income tax advisor or CA for expert advice.

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