The United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change defines carbon emissions as:
Carbon or carbon dioxide (CO2) is a colourless, odourless and non-poisonous gas formed by the combustion of carbon and in the respiration of living organisms and is considered a greenhouse gas. Emissions means the release of greenhouse gases and/or their precursors into the atmosphere over a specified area and period of time.
Carbon emissions are calculated by estimating not just the CO2 emissions that the activity in question causes, but also any emissions of other greenhouse gases (such as methane and nitrous oxide) and in some cases other types of climate impacts as well, such as vapour trails from aeroplanes.
For simplicity, all these impacts are added together and expressed as a single number in terms of carbon dioxide equivalent (CO2e): the amount of CO2 that would create the same amount of global warming. The total amount of greenhouse gases produced to directly and indirectly support human activities, usually expressed in equivalent tons of carbon dioxide (CO2).
Typically carbon emissions are an estimate of the climate change impact of an activity – such as making a product, living a lifestyle or running a company.
When you drive a car, the engine burns fuel which creates a certain amount of CO2, depending on its fuel consumption and the driving distance. When you heat your house with oil, gas or coal, then you also generate CO2. Even if you heat your house with electricity, the generation of the electrical power may also have emitted a certain amount of CO2. When you buy food and goods, the production of the food and goods also emitted some quantities of CO2.
According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics, Australia produced nearly twice as much carbon emissions per person compared to other OECD (Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development) nations.
Per capita, Australia emitted 18.75 tonnes of carbon dioxide compared to the OECD average of 10.97 tonnes per person in 2009.
It is data like the above which should prompt action from all Australians who are concerned about the welfare and sustainability of the environment.
Legislation has been passed through the Australian federal parliament mandating the nation’s top 500 emitters pay a carbon tax to offset their emissions. This will start in July 2012.