The jargon of climate change and carbon offsetting can be hard to grasp. Below is a list of concepts and definitions to help you better understand the key climate terms.
A carbon credit is a standard measure of 1 tonne of CO2 (carbon dioxide) that has been reduced from climate impact. Whether this is because it was captured from the atmosphere, or because a certain amount of trees were avoided from being cut down.
International regulators such as Verra, Gold Standard and Plan Vivo provide a limited amount of these credits to independent projects as a way for financing non-profit endeavours that help fight climate change. Each credit is tallied and registered in a public ledger to ensure they are unique and can’t be attributed or sold more than once.
Carbon credits exist to help create and fund these environmental projects that wouldn’t otherwise exist.
A carbon footprint is the total greenhouse gases (GHGs) emissions that are created by the activities of an individual, organization or community, expressed as carbon dioxide equivalent (CO2e).
Carbon negative (also referred to as climate positive) is the step beyond carbon neutrality, where you offset an amount more than the emissions you produce. This is commonly achieved through carbon offsetting and the purchase of carbon credits. If your company currently produces 100 tonnes of Greenhouse Gas (GHG) emissions per year, you can become carbon negative by purchasing more than 100 verified tCO2 per year from projects through Nul.
A person, organization or country is considered carbon neutral if it balances the carbon dioxide it releases into the atmosphere through its daily activities with the amount it absorbs or removes from the atmosphere. You can become carbon neutral when you calculate your carbon emissions and compensate for what you have produced via carbon offsetting projects.
Carbon offsetting is the process of compensating for greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions from human activities by financing projects designed to make equivalent reductions of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere in exchange for carbon credits. Projects can achieve emissions reduction by removing, sequestering CO2 from the atmosphere, or preventing the release of emissions at the source. Examples include reforestation, direct air capture, or renewable energy projects.
Climate change refers to long-term shifts in global or regional temperatures and weather patterns.
Climate change is a phenomenon that has happened periodically over the course of the Earth’s history as a result of natural processes such as changes in the Sun’s radiation, volcanoes, and internal variability in the climate system. But since the Industrial Revolution, human activities have been the main driver of climate change, mainly due to burning fossil fuels and intensive land use.
CO2e, or carbon dioxide equivalent, is a standard unit for measuring carbon footprints. The idea is to express the impact of each different greenhouse gas in terms of the amount of CO2 that would cause the same amount of warming. That way, a carbon footprint made up of many different greenhouse gases can be expressed as a single number.
Global Warming is the gradual increase in Earth’s average temperature caused by gases such as carbon dioxide. This long-term heating of Earth’s surface is observed since the industrial revolution due to human activities, primarily through the burning of fossil fuels, which increases heat-trapping greenhouse gas levels in Earth’s atmosphere. The more greenhouse gases in our atmosphere, the warmer the Earth will get.
The Gold Standard (GS) is a voluntary carbon offset program, developed in 2003 by World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF), South North, and Helio International, focusing on projects of high environmental integrity and progresses on the United Nation’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).
The greenhouse effect is the process that occurs when greenhouse gases (such as carbon dioxide) in Earth’s atmosphere trap the Sun’s heat. This process makes Earth much warmer than it would be without an atmosphere and it is one of the things that makes the Earth a comfortable place to live, but in recent years as a result of human activity, an increase in greenhouse gas emissions has resulted in an acceleration of the greenhouse effect, causing the Earth to grow warmer over time.
As the sun heats the Earth, the Earth’s surface releases heat back to space as infrared radiation. The gases that absorb this infrared radiation and trap heat in the atmosphere, such as carbon dioxide or methane, are called greenhouse gases.
Human activities since the beginning of the Industrial Revolution, have increased the concentration of carbon dioxide in our atmosphere by over 50%. As GHG concentrations increase, the warming effect they produce increases too. This long-term increase in Earth’s average temperature is known as global warming and has widespread and unpredictable impacts on the climate system.
International carbon standards are groups that verify all types of carbon offsetting projects. These standards use a rigorous screening and observation process, to ensure that all verified carbon offsetting projects positively impact the environment and leave a lasting impact.
Carbon standards are generally backed by reputable and environment-focused non-profit organizations, who are capable of supervising and aiding the dozens of carbon offsetting projects they verify. Projects typically have to meet certain benchmarks, standards, and protocols outlined in detailed policies by the carbon standards.
Some of the world’s most used carbon standard programs are: The Gold Standard, VERRA’s Verified Carbon Standard, Plan Vivo Standard, among others.
Planetary boundaries are environmental thresholds set to maintain a safe and habitable planet for humanity. If these limits are crossed, irreversible environmental changes can occur with serious consequences. The nine planetary boundaries are:
Reforestation is the process of renewing forest cover, by planting trees in areas that have lost forest cover due to either human or natural causes.
Renewable energy is energy that is created from natural sources that naturally replenish over time. For example, sunlight and wind are sources that are constantly being replenished.
Verified Carbon Standard (VCS) is a standard for certifying carbon emissions reductions. The VCS Program is currently the largest fully-fledged carbon offset program developed and managed by the global organization Verra, to ensure greater quality assurance in voluntary carbon markets.
Zero-carbon refers to a situation in which no carbon emissions are being produced from a product, service, or activity (for example, a wind farm generating electricity).