What is Climate Change?
Climate Change, also referred to as Global Warming, is the gradual increase in global average temperatures, leading to less stable weather, unreliable rainfall, and more severe weather events. This will have far-reaching impacts on health, water supplies, agricultural production and natural ecosystems. It will also increase the level of damage to people and property, and therefore increase insurance costs, as fires, floods and storms become more severe. Climate Change is caused by the rising level of greenhouse gases in our atmosphere.
Whilst natural processes have caused these levels to fluctuate slightly over millions of years, the activities of humankind in the last few centuries have caused an unprecedented increase in greenhouse gas emissions, with severe consequences for our climate. Acting now is our best chance to slow climate change.
What are Greenhouse Gases?
Greenhouse gases (GHGs) is a collective term for a group of gases that trap the sun’s heat in the earth’s atmosphere, rather than letting it radiate back into space. This warms the planet in the same way that the glass panes of a greenhouse trap heat and warm the air inside, hence the common term ‘the greenhouse effect’. The main greenhouse gases are water vapour, carbon dioxide (CO2), methane (CH4), nitrous oxide (N2O), and Ozone (O3).
The greenhouse effect is fundamentally a good thing, since in the absence of greenhouse gases there would be no life on earth. However, the rapid increase in greenhouse gas emissions resulting from human activity – primarily burning fossil fuels and destroying forests – is increasing the level of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere above its historical equilibrium, causing climate change.
What are carbon emissions?
There is a finite level of carbon on earth. It is stored in three places - the atmosphere, the biosphere (soil and vegetation), and the oceans. As plants grow they absorb carbon (in the form of carbon dioxide) and when they die they release it back into the atmosphere, where it is taken up by new plants in the oceans or on earth.
There is a natural dynamic cycle that has continued to operate within a steady spectrum for over half a million years. What we´ve done as humankind is to pump out unusually large amounts of carbon dioxide by burning fossil fuels to meet our growing population’s insatiable demand for energy. In addition, we have cleared vast areas of forest to make way for agriculture and development and to use for fuel, timber and paper products. All this has caused the natural cycle to get out of sync.
Huge quantities of carbon from fossil fuels that took hundreds of millions of years to be produced have been released back into the atmosphere over just 150 years, and the rate at which this is happening continues to accelerate. The resulting build up of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere is increasing the greenhouse effect and causing climate change. Human activities also create emissions of other greenhouse gases (e.g. methane emissions from landfill and livestock farming, nitrous oxide emissions from fertilizer use, CFCs and HCFCs from industrial processes). However, carbon dioxide is by far the most prevalent and is also used as the benchmark measure.
Emissions of other greenhouse gases are always converted into tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent (tCO2e) based on their relative efficiency in trapping heat and hence contribution to climate change. As a result ‘carbon’ and ‘carbon emissions’ have become common shorthand terms for all greenhouse gas emissions.
What is a carbon footprint?
A 'carbon footprint' is the calculation of the total carbon emissions resulting from the activities of an individual, business or organisation over a given period. These activities are likely to include electricity and other fuel use, surface and air transport, paper use, waste disposal, food consumption, etc. A carbon footprint can also be calculated for the lifecycle (production, use and disposal) of a particular product, or the provision of a particular service.
Climate Friendly’s online calculators for home and work enable you to work out your carbon footprint. We can also provide customised carbon footprint calculators for business and other organisations. All of our footprint calculations are based on best-practice methodology and up-to-date emission factors from the most reputable sources. Measuring your carbon footprint enables you to identify opportunities for reducing your emissions at home and work, and to track progress over time.
How can we reduce our carbon emissions?
Almost all of the actions you take - driving your car, turning on the lights, using your computer - generate carbon emissions. The most effective way we can reduce our emissions, and thus help to prevent climate change, is to simply use less energy. In some situations we can also choose to use renewable energy, to use less energy-intensive products, and to create less waste. Climate Friendly has loads of tips on how you can reduce emissions at home or at work.
However, no matter how hard we try, it is impossible for us to reduce our emissions to zero. That’s where carbon credits come in - to ‘offset’ the emissions we cannot avoid with emissions saved elsewhere.
At Climate Friendly we say that Climate Action = Emission Reductions + Quality Offsets.