Perspectives from around the world

How much carbon dioxide?

When people talk about climate change and carbon dioxide, they often talk about tonnes of CO2 emitted from different facilities, countries or regions over different periods of time - often annually. Of course, when they describe emissions from power plants the units are most commonly in millions of tonnes per year. For countries, the units become hundreds of millions of tonnes per year and for regions it changes to gigatonnes per year. We all know that a million is a large number - so a 'giga' must be really big. So when we hear that global emissions of carbon dioxide in a recent year totalled over 30 gigatonnes (or 30 Gt), we know it is a lot of CO2 - but do we really have any serious understanding of just how much that is? It is, of course, 30,000,000,000 tonnes - but who knows how much space a tonne of carbon dioxide occupies? 

This can be calculated using Avagadro's Hypothesis that one mole of a gas occupies 22.4 litres at 'standard temperature and pressure' (STP - zero degrees Celsius and one atmosphere of air pressure - or a freezing cold day at sea-level). One mole of CO2 weighs 44 grams. So 1 gram of CO2 will occupy 22.4/44 litres at STP and 1 kilogram will occupy a space of (1000 times 22.4/44) litres which is 509 litres. One tonne of CO2 will, therefore, have a volume of 1000 x 509 litres or 509 cubic metres (m3).  

My local swimming baths is 25 metres long and 15 metres wide, so one tonne of CO2 will fill it to a depth of 1.36 metres - which is about the depth of the water in the swimming pool.  

At present, the largest single point source of CO2 emissions in Europe is the Belchatow lignite-fired power plant in Poland. When all of its units are operating, it will be emitting over 33 million tonnes of CO2 each year. There are also two plants in Germany that emit close to 30 million tonnes/year and the largest plant in the UK emits around 20 million tonnes/year - a similar size to the largest of the Australian coal-fired power plants. 

A simple mathematical calculation shows that there are 31, 536,000 seconds in one year. So the Belchatow power plant will emit over one tonne of CO2 every second. In other words, it would emit enough CO2 to overfill my local swimming baths every second of every day. Another way of looking at this much CO2 is how long it would take the power plant to fill a 'super stadium' - such as the new 100,000-seater Wembley (1.4 million m3) or the massive Melbourne Cricket Ground (MCG - 1.7 million m3). The answer is 37 minutes for Wembley and 55 minutes for the MCG. So one - admittedly very large - power plant could totally fill Wembley Stadium with CO2 thirty-nine times a day, every day, every year (or the MCG 26 times each day, every day, every year). 

The largest CO2 emitting country in Europe is Germany. The German power sector emits 345 million tonnes of CO2/year - which is 945,000 tonnes each day. This could totally fill Wembley Stadium 422 times every day - or once every five minutes. The emissions from the German industrial sector could fill it an additional 212 times each day. Of course, this is only a part of the story. Total emissions are significantly higher as they must include all forms of transport, domestic and agricultural emissions - but many of these emissions are difficult or near impossible to capture and store as they are much more dispersed. 

Australian national emissions, for example, are around 540 million tonnes of CO2/year, but only around 200 million tonnes of these come from the power sector. Even so, the Australian power sector alone emits sufficient carbon dioxide to completely fill the MCG 164 times each day (or every nine minutes).  

So when we talk quite nonchalantly about a gigatonne of CO2 in a year, we mean enough CO2 to fill Wembley stadium about four hundred and fifty thousand times (yes, 450,000) each year or three hundred thousand (300,000) MCGs.  

Do the math for a stadium near you!  

Of course, you still have to multiply the number you get by 30 as our global annual emissions exceed 30 gigatonnes - and they are increasing every year. 

Did we really think we could pump these waste gases into our atmosphere without having any impact on the air that we breathe or our climate? How much longer do you think we can continue to do it? Is it not much more sensible - and responsible - to capture as much of the gas as we can, compress it (reducing its volume by 600 times or more) and pump it deep underground where it will stay without any negative effects on us or our environment? 

Take a deep breath! During the time you have been reading this (assuming approximately five minutes), then globally we have emitted enough carbon dioxide to fill Wembley stadium 130 times.....

23 Jul 2013 | zubi

fine.. its a good explanation to calculate about CO2. but can anyone guide me that how much tonnes or gigatonnes of CO2 can raise earth's temperature by 1 degree celsius?

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21 Dec 2013 | Roger Longden

Heard that it is a Tera Ton or 1000 Giga Tonnes for a 1 degree celsius average temperature increase. If anyone knows of different a guestimate please respond. And is it really true that about 10 GTon of just Carbon are being put into the atmosphere now. Then how much of that gets sequestered by the oceans or is that the residual after sequester. Been looking for this information and haven't stumbled upon it yet. Thank you.

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23 Sep 2013 | Sapoty Brook

There is an excellent Myth Busters episode where they showed that CO2 increased the heat trapped in the atmosphere by about 1C.

The molecule has the carbon atom between two oxygen atoms and it vibrates with an electric field with the positively charged carbon going one way and the negatively charged oxygen going the other way. If the frequency of the photon is right then the carbon dioxide resonates with the photon vibration and absorbs it. The frequency of photon absorbed by carbon dioxide corresponds to infrared heat.


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22 Aug 2013 | Liz S

I haven't read about 1 degree but the "Do the Math Video" projects that the atmosphere can handle 565 gigatons without exceeding 2 degrees. It continued that at our current rate of emissions we'll reach that limit in 15 years.

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25 Feb 2013 | Zachary Belton

Ok look im just a teenager but hear me out I haven't done much study but hopefully i can spark something... GHG are not just caused by emissions we need to take into consideration of Deforestation and pollution, the Kyoto Protocol is a terrific idea for quite alot of countries that are BIG producers, the KP only covers GHG emissions which seems rather disappointing to me. The UN needs to focus on other countries and try and get them into signing the KP, China defiantly needs as they produce over 20% of emissions, which is disturbing with those figures and other countries emissions levels keep rising, we need more countries to sign the KP if this is even going to go anywhere, or we will just see more and more emissions not much will change... I hope i've done something here today to add on, but as much as I am reading from you guys, it's incredible, I'm enjoying reading through everyones opinions and we all need to do our part. Thanks for reading :))

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16 Dec 2011 | Pierre LE THIEZ


There is maybe another way to help people visualize how much is 30Gt of CO2. Let's consider that you have it in liquid phase with an average density of 1000 kg/M3 = 1 ton/M3.

Then 30Gt of liquid CO2 will occupy 30Gm3. If I'm right the Leman Lake between France and Switzeland contains 89 km3 of water (the Leman Lake is as follows: 73kmX14kmX372m. Quite large!)

Then each year, 30Gt of CO2 correspond 1/3 of such a lake. This is just to get an idea. Of course, to reach such a density at 0 Celsius, you need to compress CO2 over 100 bars ... 

Pierre Le Thiez

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18 Nov 2011 | Derek Taylor

I would like to thank all those people who took time to read my recent blog on "How much carbon dioxide". I really think that it is important that we realise how much carbon dioxide we are pumping into our atmosphere as a result of our activities. Of course, the basic premise of the blog is that it is not a good idea to do this - mainly because of its impact on our climate and other parts of our environment (in particular the seas and oceans that absorb some of the gases we emit).

However, some of the readers do not appear to accept the scientific data that I - and most others - find totally convincing about greenhouse gases and climate change. As a geologist by training, I have no difficulty accepting the fact that the earth has experienced climatic variations throughout its long existence (over 4.5 billion years) as the evidence for this is retained in the rocks beneath our feet. Combining this with being a scuba diver, I am not only well aware of reefs but also very interested in their origin and the role they and other larger carbonate formations can have had in influencing the composition of our atmosphere - a composition that has also changed very significantly over time.  These processes will continue.

The big difference between what has happened in geological time and what has happened since the start of the industrial revolution - and, in particular, in the second half of last century - is the fact that we are adding ever increasing amounts of carbon dioxide into our atmosphere at a rate that has not been experienced in the past. I agree that the annual rate is only a relatively small percentage of the total carbon dioxide that is in the atmosphere now - but it is an amount that is constantly increasing. Yes, I agree that the seas absorbs a lot of the carbon dioxide - but this is not a positive for many of the species living there and the concentration in our atmosphere still increases towards the potential "tipping point". Yes, of course, the sun's radiation has a very significant impact on the temperature of the earth -we would not be here now, nor would we be able to live without it. The greenhouse gases are not the source of the heat - they are just the blanket around us that traps the energy that we receive from our sun and prevents it from escaping back into space. The thicker and heavier the blanket, the more effective it is in trapping this energy in the form of heat.

The very well documented close correlation between carbon dioxide emissions and global temperature change is particularly worrying when we hear the latest emission statistics and find that, in spite of a major economic downturn in much of the developed world, we continue to pump record amounts of carbon dioxide into our atmosphere. Can we still slow down or even stop the temperature rise by reducing the amounts of CO2 that we emit?  If we do not even try we are really taking a massive gamble with the lifestyles and possibly lives of all future generations. I, for one, do not want to take such a gamble.

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18 Mar 2013 | Gerald Kanter

Mr. Taylor, I am a skeptic of anything that the United Nations and any Government tries to cram down the throat of its citizens. I remember the "scientists" saying that we need to put ash on the polar ice caps to stop the impending ice age of the year 2000. This was said during the mid 1970's during the time of "Global Cooling".
Having read the IPCC's AR4 synthesis report, I noticed something (well many things) that were suspect. Like Antarctica not being included in the models for global temperature. As a 16 year union worker who will have a bachelors degree in Economics within a year, I can not do much of the calculations that you expressed in your writings. I would like to find out why nobody is talking about "Methane & Nitrous Oxide" in comparison to Carbon Dioxide. On the US Environmental Protection Agency's website, it states that Methane is 22 times worse the Carbon Dioxide concerning Global Warming Potential (GWP), and Nitrous Oxide is over 300 times worse than Carbon Dioxide for GWP. As well as Hydroflourocarbons (not sure if I spelled that correctly) being over 1,000 times worse.
My main question is why we are so hell bent on fixing the Carbon Dioxide problem when there are worse Greenhouse gases that have a greater impact on the environment?

Please let me know what you think. Thank you for reading this.

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29 Sep 2013 | David Appell

Gerald, while scientists were wondering what was going on with the climate from 1945-1975, and if the Earth was cooling, there simply was not anything nearly like the concensus today that CO2 is causing warming. I suggest you read

"The Myth of the 1970s Global Cooling Scientific Consensus," W. Peterson et al, Bull. Amer. Meteor. Soc., 89, 1325–1337, 2008

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15 Nov 2011 | Dani Kurniawan

When you offset your emissions with Climate Friendly, you're going a step beyond cancelling your emissions. By buying carbon credits from clean renewable energy sources, you're accelerating the transition to a clean energy future and supporting the technologies that provide long term solutions against global warming.

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19 Nov 2011 | Dani Kurniawan

International market is composed of two main components:
Market Compliance and Voluntary Markets. First Carbon Credits traded from the quota allocated to each state by the Kyoto Protocol.The second trading carbon credits issued by companies that develop green projects approved by UNITED NATIONS.
The first and second type of carbon credits are equal. They can be resold to companies that pollute. Or can be used to develop new projects.

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14 Nov 2011 | Peter Kabatek

Of course, every chemist and chemical engineer knows that increased absorption of carbon dioxide into water increases its acidity (lowering of pH level) by formation of carbonic acid.  This increasing acidity is increasingly toxic to many species who live in the bodies of water around the world upon which the human race has depended throughout history.  Thus the continued sustainability of our present course of action is in question.  Would anyone care to dispute this point?

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19 Nov 2011 | Kenneth Murray


Increased absorption of carbon dioxide into fresh water and salt water lowers pH, you are quite right about that.  In addition, the CO2 in seawater stays there because of available base buffers in the chemistry.  In fresh water though, when buffers are absent, the CO2 will bubble out.  Increasing acidity in either case, is remediated by Nature's with Group I and II metals K or Ca in combination with -OH ions.  Rock errosion is an ion source for fresh water.   Eventually, naturally occuring base buffering is acheived in fresh water. 

Seawater chemistry contains natural buffers already.  The carbon cycle finishes by and with, the formation of calcium carbonate (CaCO3), chalk and limestone (see: White Cliffs of Dover in Southern England - result of CO2 over-abundance during the Cretaceous Period).

More CaCO3 is provided by today's photosynthesis with atmospheric CO2 forming phytoplankton which is eaten by coccolithophores, fish, etc.,etc.

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14 Nov 2011 | cdnld30

Temperature Readings

Greenhouse gases are not to blame for global warming, solar radiation is to blame. The average global atmospheric temperatures, or average surface temperature ( greenhouse gas effect) are affected by solar radiation , humidity, air temperature, urban heating, and other Trace gases such as CO2, argon, neon, methane aka IRag). These elements increases the heat capacity of the atmosphere. Greenhouse effect purportedly absorb, or trap, and restrict the escape of IR radiation into space, there by raising the global average atmospheric temperature. The global average atmospheric temperature reading only gets as high as 0 to 9 deg (F) above the average global actual temperature, which is generated by the solar radiation, so how can the greenhouse effect be blamed for global warming? The average global actual temperature will always be the predominant temperature reading, although its never mentioned by greenhouse gas advocates (See Ref. “A thru C”)

For example, If the average global actual temperature is 88 deg (F), and the average global atmospheric/ surface temperature will read from 0 to 9 deg (F) above the average global actual temperature, it is said that the average global atmospheric/ surface temperature reading is between 88 to 97 deg (F). The global avervage actual temperature, and the average global atmospheric temperature are two distinct, and separate temperature readings, and are not one in the same as the greenhouse gas advocate want you to believe. The temperature reading of the greenhouse effect are too low to cause the current global temperatures. (See Ref. “E”)

The greenhouse effect has never been proven by creditable experiments, thus the hypothesis is flawed.The earth vast environment should never be compared to a small transparent enclosure, as used in the experiment to prove CO2 raises atmosphereic temperature.The gases in the transparent enclosure are retained by the transparent wall of the enclosure, and the gases in earth envronment is retained by the gases atomic weight, and earth's gravitational field. In the experiments in question the transparent wall enclosure is responsible for the temperature increase, and not greenhouse gases inside the enclosure. The transparent wall traps the IR radiation, and cause the temperature inside the enclosure to increase. (See Ref- F, and G)

Greenhouse advocates only recognize two temperature reading, and that the average global atmosphereic temperature, and the average global surface temperature. As far as they are concern is no third temperature reading, where global warming is concerned. It the average global actual temperature that's responsible for global warming, not the greenhouse gas effect.

The sun generates solar radiation over a wide spectrum, and the earth's surface, and atmosphere are the recipients of solar radiation, they only radiates IR radiation. Solar irradiance have only been measured since 1978, and is said to have increased only by

1 deg (C) over a few decades. 33 years is not enough time to determine if the sun played no role in global warming, and is not enough time to measure solar irradiance increases. CO2 levels have been monitored for hundreds of years, but the greenhouse gas advocates want you to believes the sun played no role in global warming, they are lying to you.



Greenhouse gases traps IR radiation preventing it from escaping back into space, there by raising the average global atmospheric, and surface temperatures. The sun provides light to both hemisphere, but only provides warmth to one at a time. What do greenhouse gases have to do with mild winter days that we are beginning to experience. In some region of the planet the winters days are becoming sunny, and warm. Now, the greenhouse gas advocates want you to believe that greenhouse gases is responsible for increasing the temperature in winter, when there shouldn't be enough solar IR radiation for any greenhouse gases to trap. This is the weakness in their argument.

Willie McDonald
Houston, Texas

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29 Sep 2013 | David Appell

Also, solar irradiance cannot explain modern warming. A good comparison of it versus temperature is here:

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29 Sep 2013 | David Appell

There is, in fact, a great deal of experimental evidence that manmade CO2 is enhancing the greenhouse effect:

"Increases in greenhouse forcing inferred from the outgoing longwave radiation spectra of the Earth in 1970 and 1997," J.E. Harries et al, Nature 410, 355-357 (15 March 2001).

“Comparison of spectrally resolved outgoing longwave data between 1970 and present,” J.A. Griggs et al, Proc SPIE 164, 5543 (2004).

“Spectral signatures of climate change in the Earth's infrared spectrum between 1970 and 2006,” Chen et al, (2007)

“Radiative forcing – measured at Earth’s surface – corroborate the increasing greenhouse effect,” R. Phillipona et al, Geo Res Letters, v31 L03202 (2004)

“Measurements of the Radiative Surface Forcing of Climate,” W.F.J. Evans, Jan 2006

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13 Nov 2011 | F Denis d'Ambrosi

Of course, what no one ever mentions is the fact that the earth's atmosphere, at equilibrium conditions, contains approximately 730 gigtonnes (Gt) of carbon dioxide.  So the total worldwode emissions per year are a little over 4% of the amount normally in the atmosphere.  That is very close to a steady state operation given the absorption of carbon dioxide into the various bodies of water around the world, the formation of cellulose by photosynthysis and the formation of coral reefs.  Reducing the emissions will simply shift the equilibrium concentrations in the waters to cause a release of carbon dioxide from the oceans resulting in nearly the same overall atmoshperic concentration.

Picture of F Denis d'Ambrosi

Saludos de Perú.

Muy interesante la comparación propuesta ya que el secuestro de CO2 gaseoso y su reconversion a líquido permitiría reducir el volumen que ocupa como gas. ¿En su pais cuál es la concentración permitida como estándar para el dióxido de carbono?

translated to -

"Very interesting to compare proposal, and the sequestration of CO2 gas and its conversion to liquid would reduce the volume it occupies as a gas. In your country what is the allowable concentration standard for carbon dioxide?"

José Saráchaga

Picture of Jose Sarachaga Esteves

Very very interresting! Thank's a lot.

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19 Nov 2011 | Dani Kurniawan

Dear Sir,

It's a good analize regarding carbon emission. A NEW VALUE Will Replace The Gold Or Oil: UNITED NATIONS Carbon Credits + Energy Global Business. Climate change is an issue involving all of us no matter where we are living in the world.  We all contribute to creating greenhouse gas emissions that forms part the problem of climate change which is increasingly starting to impact on our daily lives. Offsetting your own emissions is simply paying your own way towards global environmental sustainability. 

Thank You.

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Derek Taylor

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A geologist with a PhD in geochemistry, 5 years working in exploration, 7 years at the OECD and 25 years with the European Commission.