The 2007 guide to carbon jargon

By Carolyn Jackson, Editor
Thursday, 22 November, 2007

In 2007, words such as greenhouse gas emissions, carbon footprint and emissions trading schemes have snuck into the mainstream vocabulary of everyday Australians. But many people are still not sure what these words actually mean. And to confuse matters even more, these words have become the platform for the federal election, which, in the past few weeks, has seen them pack more punch than interest rate rises and the war in Iraq.

Kristin Zeise, the founder of Pacific Environmental Limited, an environmental science and technologies company, has compiled a top 10 carbon jargon file, which she believes will help people understand environmental speak and get a handle on carbon jargon.

Greenhouse gases - are gases that trap heat in the atmosphere, which include carbon dioxide, methane, nitrous oxide and water vapour. Industrial activity contributes significantly to greenhouse gases and is causing an imbalance leading to global warming.

Carbon - occurs in all organic life. When united with oxygen, carbon forms carbon dioxide, a major greenhouse gas.

Carbon emissions - CO2 is released into the atmosphere through natural processes such as respiration, decaying of animal and plant matter, bush fires and volcanic eruptions and also through the burning of fossil fuels for energy. CO2 is a key contributor to the enhanced greenhouse effect.

Carbon neutral - individuals and businesses can neutralise their carbon emissions by purchasing offset credits generated by entities such as renewable energy projects eg, wind farms.

Emissions - substances discharged into the air such as greenhouse gases.

Emissions (carbon) trading - market scheme aimed at lowering carbon emissions. Companies that hold emission levels below a cap can sell remaining allowances to companies that have exceeded their cap.

Carbon sequestration - involves capturing CO2 produced by industrial processes and injecting it underground or under the ocean.

Carbon offsetting - enables people and organisations to reduce their carbon footprint.

Carbon footprint - a carbon footprint is the total amount of CO2 and other greenhouse gases, emitted over the full cycle of a product or service. It is expressed as grams of CO2 equivalents, which accounts for the different global warming effects of different greenhouse gases.

Kyoto Protocol - this was signed in 1997 and laid out targets for industrialised countries to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions. The Kyoto Agreement is a framework laid down by 38 developing countries to prevent global warming (US, China and Australia did not join). The overall target for Kyoto was an 8% reduction in greenhouse gases between 2008 and 2012. Each country has its own target.

Note: The targets will be reset at a meeting in Bali in December 2007. Australia is not involved with any negotiations on resetting targets. Attendance at the meetings will be in an observer capacity.

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