Understand the Terminologies of the Carbon Market
Carbon is one of the most abundant and versatile elements in the universe. It is the building block of all living things, from bacteria to humans. It is also a key component of many natural and human-made materials, such as coal, oil, gas, plastics, diamonds, and graphite. Carbon plays a vital role in the Earth’s climate system, as it cycles between different forms and reservoirs through various physical, chemical, and biological processes. Carbon also affects many aspects of our society and economy, such as energy production, transportation, agriculture, industry, and trade.
In this article, we will explore some of the basic carbon terms you need to know to understand how carbon works and why it matters. We will explain what carbon credits, carbon emissions, carbon offsets, carbon tax, carbon sink, carbon neutral, carbon dioxide equivalent (CO2e), carbon market, carbon registry, and carbon accounting are and how they relate to each other.
1) Carbon credits: These are permits that allow the owner to emit a certain amount of carbon dioxide or other greenhouse gases. One credit permits the emission of one ton of carbon dioxide or the equivalent of other greenhouse gases.
Carbon credits are part of a cap-and-trade system, where companies that pollute are given a limit on their emissions and can buy or sell credits to meet their needs. Carbon credits are intended to create a financial incentive for companies to reduce their emissions and invest in clean technologies.
2) Carbon emissions: These are the release of carbon dioxide or other greenhouse gases into the atmosphere as a result of human activities, such as burning fossil fuels, deforestation, agriculture, and industrial processes. Carbon emissions are the main cause of global warming and climate change, as they trap heat in the atmosphere and alter the natural balance of the Earth’s climate system.
3) Carbon offset: This is a reduction or removal of emissions of carbon dioxide or other greenhouse gases made in order to compensate for emissions made elsewhere.
For example, a company that emits a lot of carbon dioxide can offset its emissions by planting trees, investing in renewable energy, or supporting other projects that reduce or avoid greenhouse gas emissions.
Carbon offsets are often verified and certified by third-party organizations and can be sold or traded in the voluntary or compliance markets
4) Carbon tax: This is a fee imposed on the emission of carbon dioxide or other greenhouse gases, based on the amount and type of gas emitted.
A carbon tax is designed to make polluters pay for the environmental and social costs of their emissions and to encourage them to switch to cleaner sources of energy. A carbon tax can be applied at different levels, such as upstream (on producers and importers of fossil fuels), midstream (on distributors and retailers of fossil fuels), or downstream (on consumers and users of fossil fuels) .
5) Carbon sink: This is a natural or artificial reservoir that absorbs and stores more carbon dioxide or other greenhouse gases than it releases over a period of time.
Examples of natural carbon sinks include forests, oceans, wetlands, and soils, which capture carbon dioxide through photosynthesis, dissolution, or decomposition. Examples of artificial carbon sinks include biochar, carbon capture and storage (CCS), and direct air capture (DAC), which use various technologies to remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere or from point sources and store it underground or in other forms .
6) Carbon neutral: This is a state or condition where the net amount of carbon dioxide or other greenhouse gases emitted into the atmosphere is equal to the net amount of carbon dioxide or other greenhouse gases removed from the atmosphere over a specified period of time.
Carbon neutrality can be achieved by reducing emissions as much as possible and offsetting any remaining emissions with carbon sinks or credits. Carbon neutrality is also known as net-zero emissions or climate neutrality.
7) Carbon dioxide equivalent (CO2e): This is a measure that expresses the impact of different greenhouse gases on global warming using a common unit.
It is calculated by multiplying the amount of greenhouse gas by its global warming potential (GWP), which is a factor that reflects how long it stays in the atmosphere and how strongly it absorbs heat. For example, methane has a GWP of 28 over 100 years, which means that one ton of methane has the same warming effect as 28 tons of carbon dioxide over 100 years. Therefore, one ton of methane is equivalent to 28 tons of CO2.
8) Carbon market: This is a system where buyers and sellers trade carbon credits or offsets based on supply and demand. A carbon market can be regulated by governments or operated by private entities.
The price of carbon credits or offsets depends on various factors, such as the type and quality of the emission reduction project, the availability and scarcity of credits or offsets, the level of demand from buyers, and the rules and standards of the market.
9) Carbon registry: This is an online platform that records and tracks the issuance, ownership, transfer, and retirement of carbon credits or offsets.
A carbon registry provides transparency and credibility to the carbon market by ensuring that each credit or offset is unique, verified, and accounted for. A carbon registry can be operated by governments, international organizations, certification bodies, or market operators.
10) Carbon accounting: This is a process that measures and reports the amount and sources of greenhouse gas emissions associated with an entity, such as an organization, a product, a service, an event, or an activity.
Carbon accounting can be used for various purposes, such as complying with regulations, disclosing environmental performance, managing carbon risks and opportunities, setting emission reduction targets, and implementing mitigation strategies.