Carbon 101


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Carbon, the way we view it, measure it, control it and price it has come to dominate debates of all kinds. So, what's it all about?

This is the starting point of a 'Carbon 101' guide released by The Climate Institute, alongside a podcast narration by Andrew Demetriou, CEO of the Australian Football League and Dr Graeme Pearman, former head of CSIRO Atmospheric Research. This presentation summarises the book and podcast. Both are available on The Climate Institute's website:

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Carbon 101

  1. 1.  1
  2. 2.  2“Humanity has never been here before. The atmosphere hasn‟t seen CO2this high for hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of years. Climatescientists say the rise of heat-trapping greenhouse gases is already puttingweather systems on steroids, with substantial human and economic costsnow in evidence. We are in dangerous and uncharted territory, with littletime to ensure a safe and sustainable future.”John ConnorCEO, The Climate InstituteCarbon 101This presentation summarises Carbon 101, a primer explaining carbon and why it matters. It was initially released in July2012 and was updated in May 2013 as the concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere approached a record dailyaverage of 400 parts per million; a level not seen in hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of years.The Climate Institute is an independent research organisation. Its vision is for a resilient Australia, prospering in a zero-carbon global economy, participating fully and fairly in international climate change solutions.May 2013
  3. 3.  3Depending on how you look at it, carboncan be good or bad. It occurs naturally – infact human bodies contain carbon. But it isalso emitted from industrial action.Here when we talk about carbon we meanthe emissions of greenhouse gases,particularly carbon dioxide (CO2).What is carbon?
  4. 4.  4What is carbon?Carbon is the sixth most abundantelement in the universe.There are nearly ten million known carboncompounds and an entire branch ofchemistry, organic chemistry, is devoted totheir study. Renowned for its ability to stitchliving things together, carbon has earnt itsnickname as the ‘duct tape of life’.
  5. 5.  5Carbon makes up18% of humanbodyweight.Trees in Australia’s nativeforests are natural stores ofabout 660 billion tonnes ofcarbon.A one-carat diamond canbe considered a singlehuge molecule consistingof 1022 carbon atoms.The basics
  6. 6.  6A 90-tonne whale containsapproximately 9 tonnes ofcarbon.100% of life on Earth containscarbon compounds.There is 50 times morecarbon in the ocean thanin the air.The basics
  7. 7.  7Most of Earth’s carbon,about 65,500 billion tonnes,is stored in rocks.Nearly 60% of decomposedorganic matter in soil iscarbon.Carbon is the sixth mostabundant element in theuniverse.The basics
  8. 8.  8An element whose atomseasily attach to other atomsto become the basis of allliving organisms. Alsoshorthand for carbondioxide (CO2) and othergreenhouse gases.A colourless greenhousegas that traps heat in theEarth’s atmosphere, formedby respiration or thecombustion of carbon.Other greenhouse gasesare often converted to CO2equivalents (CO2-e).CO2 and other greenhousegases released by humanswhich accumulate in the air,trap heat, and raise theaverage global temperature,upsetting the naturalbalance.Carbon Jargon
  9. 9.  9Carbon JargonA term used to describe afuture global economywhere economic activityproduces zero net carbonemissions.The amount of GDPproduced per unit of carbonpollution emitted.A country or company’slevel of readiness toprosper in a low-carbonglobal economy.
  10. 10.  10Buying and selling carbonpermits in a market.The right to emit carbonpollution, measuredin tonnes.A monetary cost on carbonpollution, intended tostimulate investment inclean energy, energyefficiency and other low-carbon technologies.Carbon Jargon
  11. 11.  11Carbon, the way we view it, measure it,control it and price it has come to dominatedebates of all kinds.So, what’s all the fuss about?The Problem
  12. 12.  12CO2 is emitted when oxygen and carbon are combined –either by nature vialiving organisms through respiration and decomposition – or when humansburn fossil fuels such as coal, gas and oil.Rising emissions of CO2 from the burning of fossil fuels and deforestation arealtering the Earth’s atmosphere and changing the global climate.Atmospheric CO2 levels are already 40 per cent higher than before theIndustrial Revolution.If carbon emissions continue to rise, the average global temperature willincrease at a speed not seen since the end of the last Ice Age.The Problem
  13. 13.  13Current concentrations of carbon dioxide - near 400 parts per million (ppm) –are higher than they’ve been in hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of years.Scientists associate 400 ppm with the Pliocene epoch, from about 3 to 5 millionyears ago, when the world was 3 C warmer, the seas 25 metres higher, andthe Greenland ice sheet was impermanent.A multitude of stakeholders are now looking at carbon: scientists, economists,companies, governments and communities.With billions of people living on an already resource-constrained planet, achanging climate puts at risk farming and food supply, cities and coastalcommunities, and our very way of life.The Problem
  14. 14.  14Where does good carbon go bad?A System out of Balance. Earth’s natural systems are only able to absorbapproximately 50% of our current annual CO2 emissions.
  15. 15.  15The ImbalanceWe need to better understand the carbon cycle, to slowcertain processes so specific gases don’t build up in excessin the air, and find ways to reduce the amount alreadyreleased. It is an issue of management.
  16. 16.  16The international community has set a goal to stabilise concentrations of CO2and other greenhouse gases in the atmosphere at a level that aims to keepglobal warming to below 2ºC.Only 20-40% of global known fossil fuel reserves can be burnt if we are to havea reasonable chance of meeting this goal.Just like housing price bubbles, we have a carbon bubble with potentiallyunsellable carbon assets on the books of our companies.Addressing the challenge
  17. 17.  17What is the carbon bubble?Australia is facing a carbon bubble.Just as sub-prime investments werebased on assumptions of permanentlyrising house prices, carbon bubble or‘sub-clime’, investments assumerelentless demand for fossil fuels.If the world acts to limit temperaturerise to 2ºC, investments in Australiancoal that may seem sound at themoment could easily turn into strandedassets that cannot be sold.Australian coal against the globalcarbon budget for coal.
  18. 18.  18Questions of fairness are central to climate change. If only a limited amount ofCO2 can be released in the atmosphere, who has the right to emit it?Quick Facts+ The average Australian produces four times more CO2 can the average globalcitizen.+ A citizen of Kiribati, a small Pacific island nation, produces 1/16th of the globalaverage.+ An Australian or American produces 64 times time amount of someone fromKiribati, and three times more than a Chinese person.What is fair?
  19. 19.  19What is fair?
  20. 20.  20In a high-carbon economy, carbonemissions have been coupled toeconomic growth, whilst futuregenerations and the environment arelargely excluded from the equation.The pursuit of short-term growth atany cost is neither sustainable nor fair.We need to factor in the finite natureof our natural resources and the realcost of carbon pollution.Our future should hold a new low andthen zero carbon prosperity.Where do we go from here?
  21. 21.  21“Because it‟s in our national interest to avoid further dangerous warming,Australia joined the US, China and over 170 other countries to commit to avoida 2 C warming. We have no time to lose.As we change the chemical make-up of the atmosphere, we are pushing up theaverage global temperature. Reaching 400 part per million is one more clearalarm bell which we ignore at great risk, because, when it comes to extremeweather and climate impacts, „we ain‟t seen nothing yet‟!”John ConnorCEO, The Climate InstituteConclusion
  22. 22.  22Additional ResourcesTo download The Climate Institute‟s Carbon 101 explainer or listen to the podcast withDr Graeme Pearman and Andrew Demetriou visit… connect with us on Facebook or Twitter for the latest news…