Carbon, greenhouse gases and CO2e - what am I tracking?

Bringing you the latest news and insights on sustainability and the journey to Net Zero.

Gala Anania Published on Feb 15 2022

The term “carbon emissions” is often a misnomer: it usually refers not just to carbon dioxide emissions, but emissions of all greenhouse gases. To make things more confusing, if you’ve looked at a carbon footprint before, you know that these are measured in Carbon dioxide equivalent, or CO2e. So what do all these terms mean, and what should you be measuring?

  • Greenhouse gases (GHG) are gases that act like a greenhouse over the planet. They let the sunlight in, but prevent the heat from that sunlight from leaving the atmosphere. As GHGs accumulate in the atmosphere, it becomes harder for heat to escape; average global temperatures rise, leading to serious consequences including climate change and sea levels rise.
  • There are many different GHGs. The main ones are:
    • Carbon dioxide (or CO2), which is generated by burning fossil fuels.
    • Methane, which comes from a variety of sources, including cattle and other ruminants, decomposing organic waste, manure, land transformation, natural gas leaks and rice farming.
    • Nitrous oxide, which arises from fertilisers and crops.
    • Fluorinated gases, which ****mostly come from refrigerant leaks and other industrial processes.
  • CO2 is by far the most common GHG. However, the other GHGs can cause much more global warming than carbon dioxide, so it’s important not to ignore those emissions. For example, over 20 years, methane can trap up to 87 times more heat than carbon, nitrous oxide 289 times, and the fluorinated gases in your office refrigerator can trap many thousands of times more heat than carbon dioxide.
  • This is why, when we measure carbon footprints, we use a measure called carbon dioxide equivalent, or CO2e. CO2e doesn’t just measure the amount of gases that are released, but also their effect on the climate. More specifically, CO2e measures all GHG emissions by converting them into the amount of CO2 emissions that it would take to have an equivalent impact on the climate. (For example, if your company releases 1 tonne of CO2e, those emissions may be made up of several different gases; however, overall, those emissions have the same impact on the climate as 1 tonne of carbon dioxide.)

The key takeaway is that if you want to take climate action, it’s important to track and reduce your emissions not jut of carbon dioxide, but of other greenhouse gases as well.

MyFootprint can help you easily measure all your greenhouse gas emissions. If you have any questions, don’t hesitate to drop us a line at hello@myfootprint.ai - we’d love to hear from you.

By Gala Anania, Climate Evangelist at myFootprint