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Exploring Sources of Emissions in Carbon Accounting

Sources of emissions refer to the activities and operations within a company that result in the release of pollutants or greenhouse gasses into the atmosphere. Here, we review the main gasses that are reviewed in carbon accounting, and their sources.

Sources of emissions

Carbon emissions come from various sources, and these emissions can have serious environmental impacts. They are increasingly under stringent reporting regulation across the world to encourage organizations to do what they can to minimize their carbon output. We explore a few of the main sources of emissions here:

Fuel Combustion

Fuel combustion is a significant emission source that can have environmental and health implications for businesses. When fuels like gasoline, diesel, natural gas, or coal are burned for energy production or transportation purposes, various emissions are released into the atmosphere. It's important for corporations to understand these emissions and their impacts.


Stationary fuel combustion refers to the burning of fuels in fixed or stationary sources such as power plants, industrial facilities, residential heating systems, and commercial boilers. These sources typically operate in a fixed location and are responsible for a significant portion of emissions.


Mobile fuel combustion refers to the burning of fuels in mobile sources, primarily for transportation purposes. This includes combustion in vehicles such as cars, trucks, ships, airplanes, trains, and off-road vehicles like construction machinery and agricultural equipment. 

Emissions from mobile fuel combustion include carbon dioxide (CO2), nitrogen oxides (NOx), particulate matter (PM), and other pollutants.

Process Emissions

Process emissions refer to the release of pollutants and greenhouse gasses during various industrial processes. These emissions occur as a result of specific production activities, chemical reactions, or other industrial operations. Process emissions can arise from a wide range of industries, including manufacturing, chemical production, oil refining, mining, and power generation.

Industrial process emissions

Controlling and reducing industrial process emissions is crucial for promoting environmental sustainability and mitigating the impacts of climate change. Companies employ various strategies to minimize these emissions, such as:

  • Implementing energy-efficient technologies
  • Adopting cleaner production processes
  • Utilizing renewable energy sources
  • Optimizing waste management practices

Additionally, regulatory frameworks and emission standards play a role in monitoring and limiting industrial process emissions to protect the environment and public health.

Waste process emissions

Waste process emissions refer to the release of pollutants and greenhouse gasses that occur during the handling, treatment, and disposal of various types of waste. These emissions are associated with waste management practices and can occur at different stages of waste processing, including collection, transportation, treatment, and final disposal. 

  • Landfill gas - Landfills are one of the primary sources of waste process emissions. As organic waste decomposes in landfills, it produces landfill gas, which consists mainly of methane (CH4) and carbon dioxide (CO2).
  • Incineration emissions - During the incineration process, pollutants such as particulate matter (PM), heavy metals, dioxins, and furans can be released into the air. 
  • Leachate emissions - Leachate is a liquid that forms when water comes into contact with waste materials in landfills or other disposal sites. 
  • Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs) - Some waste types, such as industrial or chemical waste, can emit volatile organic compounds during storage, handling, or treatment. 
  • Greenhouse Gas Emissions - Waste decomposition processes, such as anaerobic breakdown of organic waste, can release methane and carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. 

Agriculture greenhouse gas emissions

Agricultural emissions refer to the release of greenhouse gasses (GHGs) and other pollutants that result from agricultural activities and practices. These emissions primarily arise from various processes involved in crop cultivation, livestock farming, and land use in the agricultural sector.

Enteric Fermentation

Enteric fermentation refers to the digestive process of animals, such as cattle, sheep, and goats. During enteric fermentation, the animals produce volatile fatty acids and gasses, including methane.

Enteric fermentation is a significant source of methane emissions in the agricultural sector. Methane is a potent greenhouse gas, with a much higher warming potential than carbon dioxide.

Manure Management

This refers to the release of greenhouse gasses and other pollutants during the handling, storage, and treatment of animal waste.

Methane is released during anaerobic decomposition in manure storage systems, while nitrous oxide is generated through microbial processes in the soil after manure application.


The production of synthetic fertilizers, primarily nitrogen-based fertilizers, involves energy-intensive processes that can result in carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions.

When applied to the soil, nitrogen-based fertilizers can undergo chemical reactions and microbial processes that lead to the release of nitrous oxide (N2O).

Rice Cultivation

Methane is produced in flooded rice paddies due to the anaerobic decomposition of organic matter by microbes.

Nitrous oxide is released through the microbial processes in the soil, particularly during the application of nitrogen-based fertilizers and the decomposition of organic residues.

Additionally, carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions may occur during the burning of rice straw after harvest, though this practice is becoming less common due to environmental concerns.

Fugitive Emissions

Fugitive emissions refer to the unintended or accidental release of gasses or pollutants from various sources, such as industrial processes, storage facilities, and transportation systems. These emissions can occur due to leaks, spills, venting, or other unintended releases during the handling, production, or transport of substances. 

  • Refrigerants - primarily, it’s hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs) that are released from cooling systems such as refrigerators, air conditioners, and industrial cooling units.
  • Fire Suppressants - Commonly used fire suppressants, such as halon compounds, hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs), or perfluorocarbons (PFCs), can be released into the atmosphere due to leaks, accidental discharges, or improper handling during maintenance or system activation.

Carbon Stock Depletion

Carbon stock depletion refers to the reduction or loss of carbon stored in natural ecosystems such as forests, grasslands, wetlands, and soils. Carbon stocks represent the amount of carbon stored in living biomass (trees, plants), dead organic matter (leaf litter, deadwood), and soil organic matter. 

Various human activities, such as deforestation, land degradation, and land-use changes, can lead to the depletion of carbon stocks. 

Land Use

Carbon stock depletion through land use refers to the reduction in carbon stored in vegetation, soils, and other organic matter resulting from changes in land use practices. Land use activities can lead to the release of carbon stored in biomass and soils, contributing to increased greenhouse gas emissions. These activities include:

  • deforestation
  • conversion of forests to agricultural land
  • urbanization
  • degradation of ecosystems 

When forests are cleared or converted for agriculture, logging, or infrastructure development, the carbon stored in trees and vegetation is released into the atmosphere as carbon dioxide (CO2). 

Additionally, the disturbance of soils through practices like intensive agriculture, mining, or construction can accelerate the decomposition of organic matter, further releasing carbon into the atmosphere.

Land Use Change

Carbon stock depletion through land use change refers to the reduction in carbon stored in ecosystems resulting from the conversion of one land use type to another. This process involves transforming natural landscapes, such as forests, grasslands, or wetlands, into agricultural fields, urban areas, or other land uses.

The extent of carbon stock depletion through land use change depends on the type and intensity of land use conversion. Deforestation, particularly in tropical regions, is a major contributor to carbon stock depletion, as it results in the rapid release of carbon stored in large trees and the disruption of soil carbon stocks.

Greenhouse Gasses

Greenhouse gasses (GHGs) refer to a group of gasses that are released into the atmosphere as a result of business activities These gasses have the ability to trap heat in the Earth's atmosphere, leading to global warming and climate change - which comes as no surprise. 

To address the urgent need to mitigate climate change, protocols and initiatives have been introduced to measure and reduce greenhouse gasses. Here, we explore a few of the main ones to be aware of.

Greenhouse gas protocol

The Greenhouse Gas Protocol (GHG Protocol) is a widely recognized and widely used accounting and reporting standard for greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. It was developed by the World Resources Institute (WRI) and the World Business Council for Sustainable Development (WBCSD) in collaboration with various stakeholders.

The GHG Protocol provides a consistent and transparent framework for organizations to measure, quantify, and report their GHG emissions. It sets out guidelines and methodologies for identifying, calculating, and reporting emissions from various sources, including:

  •  Direct emissions from owned or controlled sources - known as Scope 1
  •  Indirect emissions from purchased energy - known as Scope 2
  •  Indirect emissions from the value chain - known as Scope 3

Find out more about the Greenhouse Gas Protocol

The Paris Agreement

The Paris Agreement is a global climate agreement adopted under the UNFCCC. The Paris Agreement was introduced on December 12, 2015, during the 21st Conference of the Parties (COP 21) held in Paris, France. It was adopted by nearly all countries participating in the conference, making it a truly global agreement to address climate change.

It aims to limit global warming well below 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels and pursue efforts to limit the temperature increase to 1.5 degrees Celsius. The agreement encourages countries to submit nationally determined contributions (NDCs) outlining their climate action plans and promotes international cooperation on adaptation, mitigation, and financial support.

What is the Kyoto protocol? And what are kyoto gasses?

The term "Kyoto gasses" refers to the greenhouse gasses that are covered by the Kyoto Protocol, an international agreement aimed at combating climate change. The Kyoto Protocol was created and adopted in 1997 and entered into force in 2005  under the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC).

The protocol was negotiated and developed by the international community through a series of meetings and discussions involving representatives from various countries.

It sets binding emission reduction targets for developed countries and establishes mechanisms to promote emission reductions and support sustainable development.

Under the Kyoto Protocol, participating developed countries agreed to reduce their emissions of six greenhouse gasses. There are 6 kyoto gasses in total: 

Carbon Dioxide (CO2)

Carbon dioxide is the most prevalent greenhouse gas and the primary driver of human-induced climate change. It is released through the burning of fossil fuels such as coal, oil, and natural gas for energy generation, transportation, and industrial processes.

Methane (MH4)

Methane is a potent greenhouse gas that is released during the production and transport of coal, oil, and natural gas. It is also emitted by livestock and other agricultural practices, as well as from the decay of organic waste in landfills.

Nitrous Oxide (N20)

Nitrous oxide is emitted from agricultural and industrial activities, including the use of synthetic fertilizers, the combustion of fossil fuels, biomass burning, and industrial processes like nylon production.

Hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs)

HFCs are synthetic greenhouse gasses used as substitutes for ozone-depleting substances in various applications, such as refrigeration, air conditioning, and foam blowing. They have high global warming potentials and can persist in the atmosphere for a long time.

Perfluorocarbons (PFCs)

PFCs are synthetic compounds used in various industrial processes, including aluminum production, electronics manufacturing, and semiconductor production. They have high global warming potentials and can remain in the atmosphere for a long time.

Sulfur Hexafluoride (SF6)

SF6 is a synthetic gas primarily used in electrical transmission and distribution equipment and as an insulating medium in the electronics industry. It has an extremely high global warming potential and can persist in the atmosphere for centuries.

Montreal Protocol Gasses

The Montreal Protocol - adopted on September 16, 1987 - is an international environmental treaty established to protect the Earth's ozone layer by phasing out the production and consumption of substances that deplete it - known as ozone-depleting substances (ODS). 

The Montreal Protocol was designed to control and eliminate the production and use of ODS to safeguard the ozone layer and prevent harmful ultraviolet (UV) radiation from reaching the Earth's surface, and since its introduction has been put into action by a large number of countries. There are a few ozone-depleting substances that the Montreal Protocol is particularly concerned with reducing. They include: 

Chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs)

Chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) are a group of synthetic chemical compounds composed of carbon, chlorine, and fluorine atoms. They gained extensive use across industrial and consumer sectors until their adverse impact on the ozone layer was uncovered. 

Hydrochlorofluorocarbons (HFCs)

Hydrochlorofluorocarbons (HFCs) were initially used as transitional substitutes for CFCs, but while they have lower ozone depletion potential by comparison, HFCs still contribute to ozone depletion. As a result, efforts have been made to phase these out as well, as can also be seen in the list of gasses covered by the Kyoto Protocol above.


Halons are a class of chemical compounds that were widely used as fire suppression agents due to their exceptional effectiveness in extinguishing fires.Alternative fire suppression agents have been developed and adopted such as clean agents (e.g., inert gasses like nitrogen and argon) and certain foam agents. Both provide effective fire suppression capabilities while minimizing the impact on the ozone layer and climate change.

Fluorinated ethers

Fluorinated ethers are a class of chemical compounds that contain fluorine and oxygen atoms. They are characterized by their unique chemical properties, including high chemical stability and low reactivity. Fluorinated ethers find applications in various industries and processes, such as:

  • Fire suppression agents
  • Dielectric fluids
  • Heat transfer fluids
  • Cleaning solvents

Benefits of reducing sources of emissions and adhering to protocols

Adhering to protocols designed to reduce greenhouse gasses (GHGs) brings several benefits to businesses and organizations, such as: 

Brand reputation

Adherence to these protocols enhances brand reputation and improves stakeholder perception. Consumers are increasingly concerned about climate change and are more likely to support companies that demonstrate a commitment to environmental responsibility. Adhering to GHG reduction protocols ensures that carbon accounting is accurate and comparable, enhancing a company's image, attracting environmentally conscious customers, and strengthening customer loyalty.

Cost savings

Adopting emission reduction measures often leads to cost savings and operational efficiencies. Energy efficiency improvements, waste reduction, and sustainable practices can result in lower energy and resource consumption, leading to reduced operational costs. Transitioning to renewable energy sources and sustainable technologies can provide long-term cost advantages while reducing dependence on fossil fuels.

Adherence to regulation

For international businesses in particular, applying GHG reduction protocols can enhance access to markets and business opportunities. Many countries and regions have regulatory frameworks and incentive programs that favor environmentally friendly businesses. By aligning with GHG reduction protocols, companies can enhance resilience, improve risk management, meet regulatory requirements, access green markets, and tap into emerging clean technologies.


Proactive GHG management can attract investment and financial support. Investors are increasingly considering environmental, social, and governance (ESG) factors in their investment decisions. By demonstrating a commitment to sustainable practices, this makes companies more attractive to ESG-focused investors and potentially unlocks new funding opportunities.

Minimum can help organizations to understand their existing carbon output, and create plans to mitigate climate related risks in the future.  Our Emissions Data Platform seamlessly collects and processes emissions data from every corner of your organization and supply chain - no matter the format. Making it the ideal platform for emissions audits and all-round business intelligence. 

Learn more about how Minimum's Emission Data Platform can help to power you all the way to Net Zero today.