What is Carbon Footprint? Definition and Explanation

By | June 21, 2016

Carbon Footprint Definition

In strict terms Carbon footprint is defined as “The total set of greenhouse gas emissions caused by an individual, event, organisation or product. It is expressed as CO2 equivalent”

In more general terms ‘Carbon’ in carbon footprint’ refers to all the greenhouse gases responsible for global warming and ‘footprint’ means ‘total impact’.

The term Carbon footprint reflects the total impact of all the greenhouse gases produced.

This term is used usually in connection with climate change. In this context carbon footprint refers to the total impact of Greenhouse gas emissions towards climate change.

What is Carbon Footprint – Explained

All the things we can sense in this world have some carbon footprints. As the term is used mostly in relation to climate change, we may perceive it negatively. But all the good things as well, for example, the crops that provide grains that we eat & the life savior medicines all have their carbon footprints.

In addition to carbon dioxide gases such as methane, nitrous oxide and chlorofluorocarbons etc also contribute towards global warming. However, the warming causing potential of all the gases is different. A molecule of methane has the potential to cause 20 times more warming than a molecule of CO2. Similarly Nitrous oxide causes 300 times more warming while the warming potential of chlorofluorocarbons is thousands of times more heat than CO2.

A product, an organization or an individual emits different greenhouse gases. For the sake of ease of expression, the total impact of the it towards global warming is expressed in terms of equivalent carbon dioxide.

It means that based on the amount of net GHG’s released, the total CO2 equivalent required to produce the same impact is calculated. This makes the carbon footprint expressed in terms of CO2e.

For example if one wants to calculate carbon footprints of a food item made from rice, the GHG’s released at various steps of its production needs to be taken into account. Paddy cultivation is a big source of methane. The irrigation system is CO2 intensive as it requires electricity and/or fuel for pumping water. Post harvesting processing of paddy, transportation, its shelf life in the market and cooking all release CO2 and other GHG’s. Left over waste of paddy cultivation is used in various ways releasing GHG’s at various steps. The calculation to know carbon footprint would require converting all the GHG’s released in the life cycle of the food item from growing to final consumption by the end user to their CO2 e.

Similarly, carbon footprint of a simple cotton dress requires calculating GHG’s released during cotton cultivation to harvesting, its transportation, manufacturing and finally its marketing.

Click here to know more about Total COEmissions and Sectors Responsible.

All our activities throughout the day, releases Greenhouse gases directly or indirectly. A person’s lifestyle, therefore, determines how much carbon he consumes which in other words mean person’s carbon footprint.

Carbon Footprints of Most Polluter Countries

Carbon Footprints of a country is total CO2 equivalents emitted by it.

Carbon emissions of a country are expressed in terms of million tons of CO2 and per capita emission.

Carbon footprint of the world estimated for the year 2014 (total emission of the world) was 35.7 billion tons. Out of the total, the share of the biggest polluters were: China (30%), United States (15%), European Union (EU-28) (9.6%), India (6.6%), Russian Federation (5.0%) and Japan (3.6%).

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