Carbon dioxide is a naturally-occurring chemical compound composed of 2 oxygen atoms each covalently double bonded to a single carbon atom.
Carbon is the chemical element found in every form of life and is the structural and energetic backbone of Earth’s living processes. Carbon is the fourth most abundant chemical element in the universe by mass (after hydrogen, helium and oxygen), and the 15th most abundant element in the Earth’s Crust. The human body is about 18.5% carbon, second only to oxygen. Given the diversity of organic compounds and their ability to form polymers, carbon is often described as the chemical basis of life.
Carbon moves gradually between vegetation, animal tissues, fossil deposits, soils, oceans, and the atmosphere in the global carbon cycle.
Carbon dioxide forms when a carbon bond is broken, often releasing energy, and oxidizing the carbon by adding two molecules of oxygen and creating CO2, the gas. As with other greenhouse gases, a rapid increase in the concentration of atmospheric carbon dioxide causes global climate change. Carbon dioxide is the principal anthropogenic greenhouse gas contributing to climate change. Applying the best carbon science to help stem the accelerating increase of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere and mitigate climate change is the ultimate goal of the Carbon Institute.
Carbon in vegetation
Through photosynthesis, plants grow and sequester carbon dioxide gas from the atmosphere in the organic compounds that comprise their tissue. Carbon makes about half the biomass of a forest.
Deforestation and forest degradation, alongside other forms of land use change, reduce the quantity of atmospheric carbon dioxide removed from the atmosphere into terrestrial carbon pools, such as forests. Alongside reducing the carbon removed from the atmosphere each year, deforestation contributes substantially to global emissions, as carbon sequestered as biomass in living forests is released back into the atmosphere. Owing to the particularities of different landscapes and tree species spread across the globe, and the lack of information about human activities in the world's forests, terrestrial carbon fluxes are the most uncertain element of the global carbon cycle.
Reducing emissions from deforestation
An international policy framework for reducing emissions from deforestation and forest degradation, known as REDD+, has emerged to incentivize the conservation of forests and other terrestrial carbon sinks. Forests and other carbon sinks have their own section in the Paris Agreement: Article 5.
As our premier initiative, the Carbon Institute is developing academic partnerships to train individuals in the measurement of terrestrial carbon, and the policy applications of these measurements and analyses. By building a greater body of professionals capable of providing transparent data on emissions from the land use sector, the Carbon Institute aims to help national governments raise to the ambition in their National Determined Contributions.
Carbon in the ocean
The world’s oceans absorb nearly 50% of anthropogenic carbon dioxide emissions. Of this, about half are absorbed by the ocean waters themselves, and the other half are used by ocean organisms. The carbon dioxide absorbed by the ocean waters caused the phenomenon known as ocean acidification.
Carbon plays a significant role in the bodies of many marine invertebrates, particularly also in the calcium carbonate (CaCO3) structures found in shells, corals, sponges, and shellfish exoskeletons. There is a growing scientific concern about the impacts of warming and acidification on marine ecosystems, particularly for corals.
Carbon dioxide in the atmosphere
There is a scientific consensus, and increasingly public awareness, that the anthropogenic increase in carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases in the atmosphere is the primary driver of global climate change. It is also well-known that the quantity of carbon dioxide released into the atmosphere over the next several decades will decide the trajectory of future climate change, and have impacts upon our climate for centuries and beyond. Primary sources of the increase of atmospheric carbon dioxide are the burning of fossil fuels and land use change, which includes deforestation and forest degradation.
Cities and carbon
Cities are where the rubber meets the road when it comes to climate change. Cities contain over half the world’s population, and are responsible for more than 80% of the world’s emissions. Much of the deforestation driven by agricultural commodities also comes from product demand by city-dwellers. Developing scalable solutions for reducing the carbon intensity of cities is one of the most effective means for mitigating global climate change. The city level will be one of the major implementers of mitigation actions to fulfill countries' pledges under the Paris Agreement.
Technology and carbon
The Carbon Institute is innovation-friendly. Industrialization is responsible for the majority of anthropogenic climate change, but increasingly technological advancements are providing solutions for a low-carbon transition and for adapting to climate change.
Technology also has a crucial role in measuring and monitoring the fluxes of carbon and other greenhouse gases. The Carbon Institute instructs learners in remote sensing techniques to apply satellite technology to effectively track land use change and terrestrial carbon fluxes.
The Carbon Institute
We form international partnerships and develop in-country certificate programs to measure land-use and oceanic fluxes of carbon, the Earth’s most vital element.