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What exactly is the Carbon Footprint?

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About Global Footprint Network
Our mission is to promote a sustainable economy by advancing the Ecological Footprint, a measurement tool that makes the reality of planetary limits relevant to decision-makers.

What exactly is the Carbon Footprint?

Carbon dioxide is emitted whenever human activities involve the burning of fossil fuels. This waste will accumulate in the atmosphere, contributing to global climate change, unless it can be captured and stored by plants. The carbon Footprint therefore measures the demand on biocapacity that results from burning fossil fuels in terms of the amount of forest area required to sequester these carbon dioxide emissions. Note that this does not suggest planting forests is the 'solution' to climate change; on the contrary, it shows that the biosphere does not have sufficient capacity to sequester all the carbon we are currently emitting.

Humanity's carbon Footprint has grown much faster than any other Footprint component, increasing more than nine fold since 1961 and now comprising about half the total demand we place on nature's regenerative capacity. With our overall Footprint now exceeding global biocapacity by about 30%, reducing our carbon Footprint is essential if we want to get out of overshoot. Top be effective, however, this must be done in a careful, Footprint-neutral manner, and not simply by transfering demand from one Footprint component to another. For example, biofuels can be substituted for fossil fuels, but this requires cropland to grow the necessary biomass. If the resultant decrease of carbon Footprint is more than compensated for by an increase in the cropland Footprint, overshoot will grow rather than shrink.

Recently the term 'carbon Footprint' has been adopted as a shorthand for the amount of carbon (usually in tonnes) being emitted by an organization or activity. The carbon component of the Ecological Footprint differs in that it goes beyond simply describing the physical quantity of carbon being emitted, instead indicating the amount of nature's limited regenerative capacity required to get this carbon back out of the atmosphere.

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