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Carbon emissions (measured in tCO2e) are gases that are released into the atmosphere from human activities. The most common type of carbon emission is carbon dioxide, but other types of carbon emissions include methane and nitrous oxide. Collectively the seven gas types which contribute to and cause global warming are known as the Green House Gases (GHG).

Key Takeaways

  • Carbon emissions is a generic term used to describe the total emissions from seven different gas types which have been identified as damaging to our environment
  • Each gas type is measured by its global warming potential in equivalent metric tonnes of CO2, know as tCO2e
  • Carbon emissions play a significant role in global warming.
  • Carbon emissions are categorised under three scopes
  • CO2 – a GHG – contributes to global warming when it is released into the atmosphere.
  • Carbon emissions can be natural or human-made.

Climate change is one of the most pressing issues of our time. And while there’s still a lot of debate about what, exactly, is causing our planet to warm at an unprecedented rate, there’s one thing that everyone can agree on: carbon emissions are playing a major role.

We’ll be discussing the two main types of carbon emissions sources—direct and indirect—as well as some examples of each. By the end of this post, you should have a better understanding of where carbon emissions come from and what you can do to reduce your carbon footprint.


What are Carbon Emissions?

Carbon emissions can come from a variety of sources, both natural and man-made. For example, volcanoes emit large amounts of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, while cars and power plants emit carbon dioxide because of burning fossil fuels such as coal and oil.

Burning fossil fuels is not the only way that carbon emissions can enter the atmosphere; deforestation also contributes to carbon emissions. When trees are cut down and burned, they release various GHGs into the air.


Direct and Indirect Emissions

Direct Carbon Emissions

Direct carbon emissions come from sources that emit carbon dioxide (CO2) or other greenhouse gases (GHGs) directly into the atmosphere. The most common source of direct carbon emissions is burning fossil fuels such as coal, oil, and natural gas. Other sources of direct carbon emissions include industrial processes such as cement production and deforestation.

Indirect Carbon Emissions

Indirect carbon emissions come from sources that indirectly contribute to atmospheric greenhouse gas levels. The most common source of indirect carbon emissions is electricity generation. When power plants burn fossil fuels to generate electricity, they release GHGs into the atmosphere. Other sources of indirect carbon emissions include transportation (e.g., cars, planes, trains), agriculture (e.g., livestock), and waste (e.g., landfills).

Carbon footprint is categorised under three scopes:

Scope 1 Emissions: Direct GHG comes from sources where the fuel is burnt on-site. Personal vehicles and gas stoves are examples of scope 1 emissions. To reduce these types of emissions, consider carpooling, taking public transportation, or riding a bike when possible. You can also switch to energy-efficient appliances, such as LED lightbulbs.

Scope 2 Emissions: Companies that emit carbon, but purchase electricity are examples of scope 2 emissions. To reduce these types of emissions, companies can invest in renewable energy sources, such as solar or wind power. They can also offset their emissions by purchasing carbon credits.

Scope 3 Emissions: All indirect emissions which are the result of a company’s activities fall under Scope 3 emissions, such as the production of goods, transportation of purchased fuel, and at an individual scale; use of those produced goods. To reduce these types of emissions, companies can invest in more efficient production processes and green transportation options. Individuals can reduce their Scope 3 emissions by recycling and choosing products with less packaging.


What are Some Examples of Carbon Emission Sources?

Carbon emissions come from both natural and human sources. While human activity is the main cause of climate change, some natural processes contribute to carbon emissions. Let us see what those are:

Natural Sources of Carbon Emissions

  1. Volcanoes 

When volcanoes erupt, they release large amounts of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases into the atmosphere. A single volcanic eruption can emit more greenhouse gases than all of the world’s cars and trucks combined in an entire year!

  1. Wildfires 

Wildfires are another major source of natural carbon emissions. When trees and other plants burn, they release carbon dioxide and other pollutants into the air.

  1. Decaying Plant matter 

When plants die and decay, they release methane and carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. This is a very significant source of greenhouse gas emissions – it’s estimated that nearly one-third of all methane emissions come from decaying plant matter!

  1. Oceanic Sources 

The ocean is a major reservoir of carbon dioxide, and it constantly emits this gas into the atmosphere. In addition, when marine organisms die and sink to the bottom of the ocean, they decompose and release methane gas.

  1. Soil Respiration 

Soil respiration is a process by which soil microorganisms convert dead plant matter into carbon dioxide and other gases. This process releases significant amounts of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere each year.


Human-made Sources of Carbon Emissions

Fuel Combustion

Burning fossil fuels is the primary source of carbon emissions, contributing to almost 90% of the total. When fossil fuels are combusted, energy is turned into heat and electricity. These power vehicles for daily transportation, household appliances, and industrial machinery.

The combustion of fossil fuels releases harmful gases and particulates into the atmosphere, which can cause respiratory problems, heart disease, and cancer. Additionally, climate change is caused by emissions from burning fossil fuels, leading to more extreme weather conditions and rising sea levels. Switching to renewable energy sources is essential to reducing carbon emissions and mitigating the effects of climate change. Solar, wind, and hydropower are all clean energy sources that can help to reduce our reliance on fossil fuels.


Another human source of carbon emissions is transportation. You need to power your vehicle with petrol or diesel, which is derived from fossil fuel, be it transporting yourself from one city to another or be it transportation of goods from the north of the country to the south. To reduce our reliance on fossil fuels, we need to invest in renewable energy sources such as solar, wind and hydropower.

Marine Transport

Marine transport is a critical part of the global economy, responsible for carrying everything from food and manufactured goods to crude oil and passengers. However, it is also a major source of greenhouse gas emissions. Ships are powered by heavy fuel oil, a type of unrefined petroleum with high sulfur content. When burned, this fuel releases large amounts of sulfur dioxide and other pollutants into the atmosphere.

In addition, ships tend to be large and slow-moving, meaning that they are not very efficient when it comes to fuel consumption. As a result, marine transport is responsible for over 15% of carbon emissions from transportation alone. While the number of ships running every day is far less than the number of cars on the road, their large size and heavy fuel consumption make them a significant contributor to climate change.


How Can Auditel Help?

If reading this article about carbon emissions has made you interested in reducing your carbon footprint – Auditel can help you!