The life cycle concept of the carbon footprint means that it is all-encompassing and includes all possible causes that give rise to carbon emissions. In other words, all direct (on-site, internal) and indirect emissions (off-site, external, embodied, upstream, downstream) need to be taken into account.
Normally, a carbon footprint is expressed as a equivalent (usually in kilograms or tonnes), which accounts for the same global warming effects of different greenhouse gases (UK Parliamentary Office of Science and Technology POST, 2006). Carbon footprints can be calculated using a Life Cycle Assessment (LCA) method, or can be restricted to the immediately attributable emissions from energy use of fossil fuels. In both cases however, as the term usually indicates the amount of emissions generated through the actions of people, what is important is not only the total amount of energy use, but also how the energy was produced in the first place (e.g. from fossil fuels or renewable resources).
An alternative definition of the carbon footprint is the total amount of carbon dioxide attributable to the actions of an individual (which includes emissions through their energy use, but other unforeseen emissions as well) over a period of one year. This definition underlies the personal carbon calculators. The term owes its origins to the idea that a footprint is what has been left behind as a result of the individual's activities. Carbon footprints can either consider only direct emissions (typically from energy used in the home and in transport, including travel by cars, airplanes, rail and other public transport), or can also include indirect emissions (including CO2 emissions as a result of goods and services consumed). Bottom-up calculations sum attributable CO2 emissions from individual actions; top-down calculations take total emissions from a country (or other low-level entity) and divide these emissions among the residents (or other participants in that entity).
The Kyoto Protocol defines legally binding targets and timetables for cutting the greenhouse-gas emissions of industrialized countries that ratified the Kyoto Protocol. Accordingly, from an economic or market perspective, one has to distinguish between a mandatory market and a voluntary market. Typical for both markets is the trade with emission certificates:
The CDM and JI mechanisms specify requirements for projects which create a supply of emission reduction instruments, whilst Emissions Trading allows those instruments to be sold on international markets.
- Projects which are compliant with the requirements of the CDM mechanism generate Certified Emissions Reductions (CERs).
- Projects which are compliant with the requirements of the JI mechanism generate Emissions Reduction Units (ERUs).
The CERs and ERUs can then be sold through Emissions Trading. The demand for the CERs and ERUs being traded is driven by:
- Shortfalls in national emission reduction obligations under the Kyoto Protocol.
- Shortfalls amongst entities obligated under local emissions reduction schemes.
Nations which have failed to deliver their Kyoto emissions reductions obligations can enter Emissions Trading to purchase CERS and ERUs to cover their treaty shortfalls. Nations and groups of nations can also create local emission reduction schemes which place mandatory CO2 targets on entities within their national boundaries. If the rules of a scheme allow, the obligated entities may be able to cover all or some of any reduction shortfalls by purchasing CERs and ERUs through Emissions Trading. While local emissions reduction schemes have no status under the Kyoto Protocol itself, they play a prominent role in creating the demand for CERs and ERUs, stimulating Emissions Trading and setting a market price for emissions.
A well-known mandatory local emissions trading scheme is the EU Emission Trading Scheme (EU ETS).
The voluntary market in North America is divided between members of the Chicago Climate Exchange and the Over The Counter (OTC) market. The Chicago Climate Exchange is a voluntary yet legally binding cap-and-trade emission scheme whereby members commit to the capped emission reductions and must purchase allowances from other members or offset excess emissions. The OTC market does not involve a legally binding scheme and a wide array of buyers from the public and private spheres, as well as special events that want to go carbon neutral.
There are project developers, wholesalers, brokers, and retailers, as well as carbon funds, in the voluntary market. Some businesses and nonprofits in the voluntary market encompass more than just one of the activities listed above. A report by Ecosystem Marketplace shows that carbon offset prices increase as it moves along the supply chain——from project developer to retailer.
While some mandatory emission reduction schemes exclude forest projects, these projects flourish in the voluntary markets. A major criticism concerns the imprecise nature of GHG sequestration quantification methodologies for forestry projects. However, others note the community co-benefits that forestry projects foster. Project types in the voluntary market range from avoided deforestation, afforestation/reforestation, industrial gas sequestration, increased energy efficiency, fuel switching, methane capture from coal plants and livestock, and even renewable energy. Renewable Energy Certificates (RECs) sold on the voluntary market are quite controversial due to additionality concerns. Industrial Gas projects receive criticism because such projects only apply to large industrial plants that already have high fixed costs. Siphoning off industrial gas for sequestration is considered picking the low hanging fruit; which is why credits generated from industrial gas projects are the cheapest in the voluntary market.
The size and activity of the voluntary carbon market is difficult to measure. The most comprehensive report on the voluntary carbon markets to date was released by Ecosystem Marketplace and New Carbon Finance in July 2007.
Criticisms derived from rejection of these assumptions may therefore include:
Another criticism relates to ambiguity of the term carbon footprint, which can either also include greenhouse gasses other than carbon dioxide, or can alternatively assess only carbon dioxide itself. For a range of consumables, the non-CO2 greenhouse gasses like methane, nitrous oxide, or CFCs (in CO2-equivalents) make up a non-negligible part of the global warming impact. An appropriate term according to the more encompassing definition could be climate footprint.
|Technology||g/kWh Vattenfall (Sweden)||g/kWh EPA||g/kWh other|
|Gas (combined cycle)||450|
|Nuclear||3.10 Forsmark Nuclear Power Plant|
|Nuclear||5.05 Torness Nuclear Power Station|
The Vattenfall study thus concluded that hydroelectric and nuclear power produced the least CO2 per kilowatt-hour of any of their electricity sources. These figures do not allow for emissions due to accidents or terrorism.
Christmas carbon emissions could be reduced by up to 60 per cent to about 250 kg.