Analysis Methods for CO2 Balances

Martin Wolf, Birgit Himmelreich, and Jörn Korte

CO2 Balances and Carbon Footprints

Measuring Impact on Global Warming

Fighting global warming is regarded as one of the key challenges of mankind for the coming decades. Emissions of gases into the atmosphere from natural and anthropogenic sources are major contributors to increasing average temperatures. Numerous activities from all kinds of stakeholders have been initiated to reduce the anthropogenic impact on global warming. The commonly accepted target is to avoid an increase of the average temperature of the Earth' s atmosphere beyond 2 °C, which is regarded as the threshold to avoid severe negative consequences for life on Earth. In order to describe and quantify the impact of emissions on global warming, a unified parameter and a unit of measurement are required. In terms of quantity the most common gas leading to climate change is carbon dioxide. Thus, by definition the global warming potential (GWP, sometimes also greenhouse warming potential) of carbon dioxide is used as a reference and emissions are typically measured in mass of CO2 emitted into the atmosphere (in g, kg, or tons). Gases having a negative impact on global warming are called greenhouse gases (GHGs). Their quantitative impact is referred to carbon dioxide and measured in mass of CO2 - equivalents' typically abbreviated as CO2e ' An important parameter for the GWP is the time horizon under consideration for temperature increase. This is because the residence or lifetime of different chemical components in the atmosphere varies significantly. Table 1.1 shows a subset of important chemical components and their GWP based on the most commonly used 100 years time horizon (taken from [1]).

We do not want to make a digression concerning the science of climate change, which can be found elsewhere (e.g., [2]) . However, it should be kept in mind that the numbers have been derived from scientific studies based on climate models. That means that the GWP factors are not physical constants but rather

Table 1.1 Global warming potentials (GWP) for gases [1].

Chemical component

Chemical formula


Carbon dioxide






Nitrous oxide



Halogentaed hydrocarbons


From 140 to 11 7CC

Flourinated compounds


From 65CC to 92CC

Sulfur hexafluoride


23 9CC

a stipulation in global agreements which is based on today's understanding from scientific climate research.

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