Frequently Asked Questions
What is global warming?
Global warming is a distinct, measurable and long-term increase in the Earth's average temperature, evidenced by increased severity of storms and drought, increased levels of precipitation, rising sea levels, glacial and arctic melting, and other readily observable phenomena.
What is climate change?
Climate change is a change in the distribution of global weather patterns over a long time. It's widely accepted by scientists that global warming is driving changes in the Earth's climate over and above natural variations.
What are greenhouse gases?
Greenhouse gases are gases in the earth's atmosphere that absorb heat (in the form of infrared radiation from the sun) and re-radiate that heat into the Earth's atmosphere to maintain the warmth needed for life to exist. The principal greenhouse gas is water vapour. Human activity has been responsible for marked increases in other greenhouse gases such as carbon dioxide (CO2), methane (CH4) and nitrous oxide (N2O). This has particularly been the case since industrialization which has seen the levels of carbon dioxide levels rise from approximately 300 parts per million (ppm) to approximately 386 ppm or an increase of approximately 24%.
What human activities have caused increases in greenhouse gases?
The main activities driving emission of excess greenhouse gases are:
Burning of fossil fuels such as coal, oil and gas
- Using energy generated by the burning of the fossil fuels (power stations, cars, aircraft and factories)
- Use of concrete
Land use changes, including
- Parts of farming (cattle and sheep raising, fertilizers, select crops)
- Land clearing including logging
- Breakdown of human waste (sewerage)
What is the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change?
The United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) is an international environmental treaty that was established in 1992 to provide an overall framework for intergovernmental efforts to tackle the challenge posed by climate change. It recognizes that the climate system is a shared resource whose stability can be affected by industrial and other emission of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases. The treaty does not have a mandate to set emission limits or enforcement mechanisms. The treaty provides for regular updates on mandatory emission limits known as "protocols". The principal update was the Kyoto Protocol however it has become regular practice to refer to the UNFCCC as the regulatory authority for enforcement.
What is a carbon credit?
A carbon credit is an independently certified unit of greenhouse gas that has either been removed from, or prevented from entering the earth's atmosphere. One carbon credit is equivalent to a withholding of one tonne of carbon dioxide (CO2). Projects that are developed to specifically remove those greenhouse gases earn carbon credits which may be sold to businesses or individuals to "offset" the emissions that they generate. Parties that buy, and then retire carbon credits are effectively outsourcing their emissions reduction. Many carbon credits also come bundled with other environmental or social benefits, depending on the project type.
What is carbon trading?
Carbon trading offers a market-based approach to managing pollution by providing economic incentives for achieving reductions in emissions of pollutants such as carbon dioxide, acid rain, nitrogen oxide etc. Many countries have their own trading systems managed usually under a government body that sets an annual limit on the amount of a pollutant that is permitted to be emitted by a business or an individual household. That limitation is calculated usually in the form of a permit. When a business exceeds their permitted emissions level they must either reduce their emissions or offset their excess emissions by purchasing credits to achieve an emissions neutral position.
What is REDD?
REDD stands for Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation. Agricultural expansion, infrastructure development and destructive logging is estimated to account for up to 20% of all excess greenhouse gas emissions. REDD credits are generated under the auspices of the Verified Carbon Standard (VCS) via projects that conserve existing forests by protecting them from illegal logging. Similarly, Improved Forest Management (IFM) projects can generate credits via projects that protect forests from sanctioned logging activities. In general parlance the term REDD is used in reference to both actual REDD projects and IFM projects. The number of carbon credits generated by such a project is determined by calculating the reductions in greenhouse gas emissions due to the cessation of logging activity.
These projects generate Verified Carbon Units (VCUs) which are only of use in the voluntary carbon markets however. The proposed REDD+ standards however aim to allow projects to generate Certified Emission Reduction units (CERs) via projects that require sustainable management and enhancement of existing forest stocks. CERs can be used in compliance markets such as the EU-Emissions Trading Scheme.
REDD projects add value over other types of carbon reduction projects because they not only stimulate conservation of forests but also the conservation of the biodiversity and security of vital ecosystems.
What is renewable energy?
Renewable energy is energy which comes from naturally replenished resources such as sunlight (solar power), wind (wind farms), rain (hydroelectric power), tides (tidal power), and geothermal heat (geothermal power). This is distinct from non-renewable energy sources such as fossil fuels like as coal, oil and gas, or nuclear power which relies on inputs that cannot be naturally replenished once used.
What is the difference between a voluntary and compliance carbon market?
Compliance carbon markets, such as the European Emissions Trading Scheme (EU-ETS) are markets that allow the trading of carbon units that can offset a firm's legal obligations to reduce emissions. Voluntary carbon markets allow the trading of carbon units that are recognised for reducing emissions, but which cannot be used to offset a firm's legal emission reduction obligations. By buying a CERs a firm can meet its legal obligations but should it wish to declare itself, or its products and services as 'carbon neutral' it can use VCUs to finance the remaining emissions reduction.
What is 'carbon neutrality'?
If a firm, or an individual, has calculated its total GHG emissions, usually via commissioning an independent analysis or audit of their activities, and then reduced those emissions to zero, typically via the purchase of carbon credits, they may be able to describe those activities as being 'carbon neutral.' Different countries have different definitions of this however and you should seek advice in your own jurisdiction before using the term 'carbon neutral'.