What are GHG emissions and why do they matter?
GHG emissions, also known as greenhouse gas emissions, are gases that trap heat in the Earth's atmosphere and contribute to global warming.
These gases include carbon dioxide (CO2), methane (CH4), and nitrous oxide (N2O), and they come from things like burning fossil fuels, farming, and waste management.
GHG emissions matter because they cause climate change, which can lead to all sorts of problems like more extreme weather, droughts, and heatwaves. Reducing GHG emissions is super important for tackling climate change and protecting the planet.
What are greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions? ☁️
Greenhouse gases (GHGs) like carbon dioxide (CO2), methane (CH4), and nitrous oxide (N2O) are important because they trap heat in Earth's atmosphere and make life possible here. But when we burn fossil fuels and do other things that release these gases into the air, it traps extra heat and contributes to climate change. CO2 is the most well-known GHG, but it's not the only one – methane (CH4) and nitrous oxide (N2O) are also big contributors. And things like refrigerants, farming, and industrial processes can also release GHGs.
Fossil fuels like coal, oil, and gas are the biggest source of GHGs, responsible for about 75% of GHG emissions in North America. But deforestation and agriculture also release GHGs. When GHG levels in the atmosphere go up, it causes the planet to heat up. That can lead to more extreme weather, sea level rise, ocean acidification, and a lot of other problems.
To help reduce GHG emissions and slow down climate change, companies around the world are measuring and cutting back on their own emissions. By understanding how much GHGs your company is responsible for, you can figure out where to make changes and track your progress towards a low-carbon or no-carbon business model.
The Big Six GHGs
The Kyoto Protocol is an international treaty that was adopted in 1997 to address the problem of climate change. The Protocol sets binding targets for the reduction of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions for countries that have ratified it. The six GHGs covered by the Protocol are:
Carbon dioxide (CO2)
CO2 is the most well-known GHG and is emitted through the burning of fossil fuels, deforestation, and other activities. It is the primary contributor to global warming and is responsible for the majority of GHG emissions.
CH4 is a potent GHG that is emitted through the decomposition of organic matter in landfills, the production and transport of fossil fuels, and livestock farming. It has a warming effect that is 25 times greater than CO2 over a 100-year period.
Nitrous oxide (N2O)
N2O is emitted through the use of nitrogen-based fertilizers in agriculture, the burning of fossil fuels, and other activities. It has a warming effect that is 298 times greater than CO2 over a 100-year period.
HFCs are synthetic GHGs that are used as refrigerants and in other industrial processes. They have a warming effect that is thousands of times greater than CO2 over a 100-year period.
PFCs are synthetic GHGs that are used in the production of aluminum and other industrial processes. They have a warming effect that is thousands of times greater than CO2 over a 100-year period.
Sulfur hexafluoride (SF6)
SF6 is a synthetic GHG that is used in the electrical industry as an insulating gas. It has a warming effect that is 23,500 times greater than CO2 over a 100-year period.
These six GHGs are considered the most important because they are the primary contributors to global warming and climate change. Reducing emissions of these GHGs is essential for mitigating the impacts of climate change and protecting the planet.
Which greenhouse gases are most relevant to businesses? 🏭
CO2, CH4, and N2O are the most relevant GHGs for businesses because they are the most commonly emitted gases from combustion of fossil fuels and are the primary gases measured in GHG inventories. These gases are emitted through a range of activities that are relevant to businesses, such as the burning of fossil fuels for energy, industrial processes, and transportation.
Measuring and reducing emissions of CO2, CH4, and N2O is therefore critical for businesses that want to understand and reduce their environmental impact and mitigate the risks associated with climate change. Many companies are now setting GHG reduction targets and implementing strategies to reduce their emissions of these gases in order to meet these targets.
In addition, CO2, CH4, and N2O are also the GHGs that are most commonly regulated under carbon pricing schemes and emission reduction targets, which means that businesses may be required to measure and report on their emissions of these gases in order to comply with these regulations.
Common business activities that emit CO2 ⛽️
There are many common business activities that emit greenhouse gases (GHGs). Some examples include:
The burning of fossil fuels such as gasoline, oil, and gas for energy is a major source of GHG emissions. Businesses that rely on fossil fuels for energy, such as manufacturing and transportation companies, are likely to have significant GHG emissions.
Many industrial processes, such as the production of cement, steel, and chemicals, emit GHGs as a byproduct.
Agricultural activities such as livestock farming and the use of nitrogen-based fertilizers can also emit GHGs, including methane (CH4) and nitrous oxide (N2O).
Landfills and waste treatment facilities can emit GHGs, particularly CH4, as organic waste decomposes.
Transportation is another significant source of GHG emissions, particularly for businesses that rely on shipping and air travel.
There are many different business activities that can contribute to GHG emissions, and the specific activities that are most relevant will depend on the industry and operations of the business.
Why one company matters ☝️
Every company's emissions matter because they contribute to the overall levels of GHGs in the atmosphere, which drives climate change.
While it is true that the emissions of a single company may seem small in the grand scheme of things, it is important to recognize that the combined emissions of all businesses, as well as households and other sectors, add up to a significant portion of global GHG emissions.
Therefore, reducing the emissions of every company, including small ones, can help to mitigate the impacts of climate change and protect the planet.
Overall, every company's emissions matter because they contribute to the global problem of climate change and because taking action to reduce emissions can have financial and reputational benefits for the company.