Question: What is the world’s Carbon Footprint?

Answer: 51 Billion tonnes per year 

That’s 51,000,000,000 tonnes of greenhouse gases the world adds to the atmosphere every year. Big numbers? Most definitely. But what does it all mean? And why does it even matter? 

It matters because greenhouse gases trap heat, causing the average surface temperature of the earth to go up. The more gases there are, the more the temperature rises. This is global warming.

Greenhouse gases

Carbon dioxide is the most common greenhouse gas that most people have heard of, but there are others, such as nitrous oxide and methane.

Molecule for molecule, many of these other gases cause more warming than carbon dioxide does.

In the case of methane, it causes 120 times more warming the moment it reaches the atmosphere. But methane doesn’t stay around as long as carbon dioxide.

Carbon dioxide equivalents (CO2e)

To keep things simple, most people combine all the different greenhouse gases into a single measure known as ‘carbon dioxide equivalents’ (CO2e). We use carbon dioxide equivalents to account for the fact that some gases trap more heat than carbon dioxide, but don’t stay around as long.

As carbon emissions have risen since the industrial revolution of the 1850, so have global temperatures. The earth is warming due to human activity, and we need to do something about it.

What causes carbon emissions?

Approximate breakdowns can be seen below:

-Transport; including land, air and sea: 16%

-Agriculture; growing plants and raising animals: 19% 

-Electricity generation: 27% 

-Manufacturing; the biggest sectors are cement, steel, plastic: 31% 

-Keeping warm and cool (heating, cooling, refrigeration): 7% 

What can we do about it?

Wow – that’s a whole huge discussion on its own and will be addressed separately. I will try and sum it up:

1)Adapt. Problems are here already, and they will increase, so adapt right now to the problems.

2)Mitigate. The 51 billion tonne question. Use technology (existing and future), use political will, use industrial might, use consumer behaviour and demand. Use all of these and we can still make a difference.


By Dan Smith C.Eng. MEI.

Dan Smith is Director of Energy Services for ClearVUE Systems. Dan provides extensive specialist knowledge gained from over 30 years of energy engineering, energy services and energy management experience in many different sectors all over the world, from China to Zambia.


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