Demystifying Carbon

Carbon is sunlight stored in biomass for weeks (switch grass) or millenia (coal, natural gas and oil). Combined with hydrogen, carbon is used as fuel. The higher the number of hydrogen atoms to carbon, the more efficient -- and cleaner -- the fuel.

The byproduct of fuel production is gas in the form of carbon dioxide (CO2), methane (CH4) and other gases known as CO2e, or carbon dioxide equivalents. It is primarily these gases which pollute the environment and have lead to local and regional governments to make efforts to reduce or mitigate the use of carbon. When successful, these new procedures result in lower energy costs, as well as reducing air and water pollution and other side effects of the high use of carbon.

In the United States, corporations are measuring their carbon footprint for a variety of reasons. Once measured, they can take steps to reduce emissions and to find ways to monetize emissions through carbon offsets or RECs. For some, the journey begins with realizing their own cost savings. New processes can lead to new products and services to sell in a growing market. For a few large corporations, developing new approaches to carbon mitigation assures them a voice as agencies promulgate new regulations. In our issue on carbon, TGEink takes a look at early stage carbon strategies, provides a glossary of terms, an animation on offsets and RECs and research on how companies are thinking about carbon and carbon reduction.

  • Additionality  Carbon credits from projects that are "additional to" the business-as-usual scenario. Such projects would NOT have happened anyway.
  • Allowance  Authorization to emit, during a specified year, up to one ton of carbon dioxide equivalent.
  • Alternative compliance mechanism Actions to achieve the equivalent reduction of greenhouse gas emissions over the same time period as a direct emission reduction. Includes, but not limited to: Alternative control technology which removes or cleans GHG currently being emitted; Process or product change which lowers GHG over previous production; Flexible compliance schedule.
  • Carbon dioxide equivalent The amount of carbon dioxide by weight that would produce the same global warming impact as a given weight of another greenhouse gas, based on the best available science, including IPCC.
  • Cost-effectiveness The cost per unit of reduced emissions of greenhouse gases adjusted for its global warming potential.
  • Direct emission reduction A greenhouse gas emission reduction action made by a greenhouse gas emission source at that source.
  • Emissions reduction measure Any mechanism, authorized by a regulatory agency, applicable to sources designed to reduce emissions of greenhouse gases.
  • Greenhouse gas (GHG) Includes carbon dioxide, methane, nitrous oxide, hydrofluorocarbons, perfluorocarbons, and sulfur hexaflouride.
  • Greenhouse gas emissions limit An authorization by a regulating entity, during a specified year, to emit up to a level of greenhouse gases expressed in tons of carbon dioxide equivalents.
  • Greenhouse gas emission source [GHG] Any source of greenhouse gas emissions whose emissions are at a level of significance, as determined by regulatory agency,
  • Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) Assesses the scientific, technical and socio-economic information relevant for the understanding of the risk of human-induced climate change.
  • Leakage A reduction in emissions of greenhouse gases within the state that is offset by an increase in emissions of greenhouse gases outside the state.
  • Market-based Compliance Mechanism A market-based system for reducing aggregate emissions from sources that emit greenhouse gases. Includes: greenhouse gas emissions exchanges, banking, credits, and other transactions, governed by rules and protocols established by regional, state or local entities.
  • Offset A project that compensates or an allowance made in order to counterbalance carbon emssions at another location.
  • Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation (REDD) Steps designed to use market/financial incentives in order to reduce the emissions of greenhouse gases from deforestation and forest degradation. Actions taken under REDD may be used to offset emissions.
  • Regional Green House Gas Initiative (RGGI - pronounced Reggie) The first regional market-based regulatory program in the United States to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in subscribing North Eastern states.
  • Regulating Agency Agency or State Authority responsible for implementing regional, state or local GHG reduction initiatives.
  • Renewable Energy Certificats (RECs) Also known as Green tags, Renewable Energy Credits, Renewable Electricity Certificates, or Tradable Renewable Certificates (TRCs), are tradable energy commodities that represent proof that 1 megawatt-hour (MWh) of electricity was generated from an eligible renewable energy resource (renewable electricity).
  • Western Climate Initiative (WCI) The WCI Partner jurisdictions plan to reduce regional GHG emissions to 15 percent below 2005 levels by 2020 and spur investment in and development of clean-energy technologies, create green jobs, and protect public health. Current subscribers include California and five Canadian provinces.