The impact of carbon emissions on the planet


The importance of reducing carbon emissions, the main element responsible for the increase in the planet's temperature, has increasingly become a consensus among the international community. The result of global warming is catastrophic effects on life on Earth – such as melting glaciers, intense heat waves, tsunamis and altered food chains.

Adopting clean, renewable energy sources that contribute to reducing CO2 in the atmosphere, such as wind, solar, biomass and tides, is no longer a matter of choice, but of priority. It is necessary to drastically reduce greenhouse gas emissions so that there is a balance between what human beings emit and what nature absorbs of carbon.

That’s why initiatives such as the Actions Platform, created by the Global Compact Network Brazil, increasingly bring together members of the Brazilian business community concerned with adhering to sustainable practices and goals for the future of the planet, in line with the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) of the 2030 Agenda.

But, before knowing how to contribute to carbon reduction in your daily life, it is important to understand what carbon is, its effects and how we got to the worrying level we are now in terms of emissions.

What is carbon?

Carbon dioxide, or CO2, is a product of chemical energy generation. We produce CO2 even when we breathe, inhaling oxygen gas for energy and exhaling carbon dioxide back to nature.

The production of CO2 is a natural and essential process for life, but that doesn't mean that our breathing is to blame for global warming. In fact, the largest production of CO2 comes from burning fuels.

As with our respiratory system, combustion of products such as oil and firewood results in energy. As a result, water and carbon dioxide are released. It is precisely the constant and massive burning of these fuels that emits a harmful amount of CO2  to the planet.

Although carbon dioxide is the most common, there are other gases (with or without carbon in their composition) that affect the planet's temperature. These gases are called greenhouse gases. Although this effect is fundamental to make our life viable on the planet, when emitted in excess, the gases cause the imbalance we call global warming and climate change.

Are carbon and carbon dioxide the same thing?

Chemically, carbon and carbon dioxide are different. While carbon is a chemical element (C), carbon dioxide (CO2) is a compound that contains carbon. However, popularly, today the word “carbon” is used as a simplified way to refer to carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases, although not all of them contain the element carbon.

Is carbon a villain?

Carbon is not a villain. It is part of several natural chemical processes, such as respiration and photosynthesis, as well as the greenhouse effect, regulating the Earth's climate and making it habitable. Without CO2, for example, the planet's temperature would be around -20ºC, which would make life impossible.

The problem is the excessive burning of fossil fuels which saturates the atmosphere with carbon dioxide and raises the global average temperature. Thus, it is necessary to reduce carbon emissions so that we have a thermodynamic balance.

The evolution of carbon

It is essential to emphasize that several factors over time contributed to this scenario, such as the Industrial Revolution and the increasingly constant use of combustion vehicles. In Brazil there is currently a car for every four inhabitants, according to the National Traffic Department (Denatran).

The image below was developed by climate scientist Ed Hawkins of the University of Reading (England) and shows the global temperature difference between 1850 and 2019. The redder the image, the hotter the planet.

Warming Stripes for GLOBE from 1850-2019

Throughout Earth's most recent history, interventions made by humans have contributed to the progressive increase in greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions and, as a result, to global warming. In an attempt to curb the advance of climate change, several global mobilizations were developed, most of them mediated by the United Nations (UN). See a timeline with environmental milestones that permeated the UN's 75 years in this link and important milestones of the last 25 years in the evolution of international climate policy in this link.

What to do to reduce carbon emissions?

We need to mobilize massively. Not only demanding actions from companies and politicians, but also taking the lead, as a society, of routine actions that can contribute to lower CO2 emissions. Click to learn how to be a part of this change.