Editorial Feature

What is the Meaning of Carbon Neutral?

In the process of global transportation, storage of energy and consumption, greenhouse gases (including water vapor, carbon dioxide, methane, nitrous oxide and ozone) are emitted into the atmosphere.

Effects of Greenhouse Gases

In our modern life nearly everything we do, from cooking to driving to farming, generates greenhouse gases. Since the industrial revolution man has been dependent on fossil fuels to generate the energy required to run engines and generate electricity, releasing carbon dioxide as a by-product. These gases contribute to the rising temperature of the Earth by trapping solar radiation reflected from the Earth’s surface, resulting in climate change, destruction of ecosystems and loss of species.

Carbon Footprint

Activities are monitored in terms of carbon footprint in an effort to mitigate the effects of global warming. This can be done by removing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere or reducing the release of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. To achieve this, carbon footprints of any human activity at the local, regional, national and international level can be monitored. To generate sustainable solutions and make better use of technology, carbon footprints can be measured for any product, business, industry, city or country. The net carbon footprint is calculated by considering the carbon dioxide sequestered and released by consumption of energy, deforestation, waste generation, dependence on non-renewable sources for electricity. This net result must be zero if a system is said to be carbon neutral. Therefore, it is possible to be carbon neutral while releasing carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, provided the same amount of carbon dioxide is removed elsewhere.

To act responsibly, we must offset these greenhouse gas emissions. Targets are programmed to maintain greenhouse gas levels without significantly raising the temperature of the Earth. Carbon footprints enable us to achieve these targets.

Carbon Neutral

Once carbon levels have been offset, we can say we are carbon neutral. For example, Bhutan proudly claims to be not just carbon neutral but carbon negative, owing to its pristine forest coverage (more than 72% of the country), renewable sources of energy from tapping floods and wind energies, and nationwide participation in this effort.

This country isn't just carbon neutral — it's carbon negative | Tshering Tobgay

It is realized that developing countries will take longer to meet carbon targets and “to achieve a balance between anthropogenic emissions by sources and removals by sinks of greenhouse gases in the second half of the century.”

An individual or a company can successfully subtract the amount of polluting greenhouse gas emissions released into the atmosphere by purchasing credits in a scheme known as carbon offsets. Carbon offsets are a credit scheme for the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions caused by energy efficient projects such as solar installations and wind farms. These carbon offset credits can be purchased and applied by an individual or company to reduce their own emissions.

Explaining Carbon Neutrality | Sustainability

The purchase of carbon offsets also provides an additional revenue source for developers of renewable energy as they provide support for the transition to a sustainable energy economy.


How can we offset carbon dioxide emissions to achieve carbon neutrality or climate neutrality? Use nuclear energy; protect forests (they act as large sinks for carbon dioxide, as the plants and trees require CO2 for photosynthesis); plant more trees around human habitation; reduce and save energy; switch from fossil fuels to renewable sources of energy such as solar energy, wind energy and hydro-energy; and create awareness and outreach programs to educate people on aiming for carbon neutral living - developed and developing nations need to join hands to work together.

Sources and Further Reading

This article was updated on 23rd May, 2019.

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