What is decarbonisation?

Why we need to reduce and remove our carbon dioxide (CO2) output

Sep 2 · 3 min read

At its simplest level, decarbonisation means the process through which we remove or reduce the amount of carbon dioxide (CO2) an individual country’s economy emits. It’s usually achieved by reducing the CO2 emissions produced by the industries that play a part in that country’s economy.

Why does decarbonisation matter so much?

Many parts of industry rely heavily on fossil fuels — including coal, oil and gas — for their energy. When these fuels are burnt, they produce CO2.

This CO2 then builds up in the atmosphere. It stops heat from escaping, and contributes to global warming. That’s why it’s known as a ‘greenhouse gas’ (GHG).

But if they change the energy they use, then industries can cut the amount of CO2 that is released into the atmosphere. Reducing the amount of GHGs emitted can help slow down the effects of climate change.

Why are we targeting carbon dioxide?

CO2 isn’t the only GHG. There are many others. But it is the most common. In fact, the last time levels in the atmosphere were this high was three million years ago.

Today, 195 countries have now made a legally binding commitment to reduce their carbon emissions through the Paris Agreement.

The goal they agreed was to limit global warming to 2 degrees Celsius compared to pre-industrial levels. The United Kingdom is now leading the G20 leading industrial nations in the race to decarbonise its economy.

How do we ‘do’ decarbonisation?

We can make decarbonisation happen using a number of energy technologies. Some of these are designed to help industries reduce their carbon emissions. Others are designed to cut emissions from the atmosphere.

The industrial sector that has decarbonised most successfully so far is electricity generation. That’s been largely due to the huge increase in renewable source of power — including solar power, wind turbines and by upgrading power stations to run on biomass instead of coal. These mean that our homes and workplaces no longer have to depend on fossil fuels.

Technological developments like using batteries to store large amounts of electricity and allowing homes to generate their own renewable energy and share it back to the grid can also help speed up the process of decarbonisation.

We can also decarbonise in other ways too, by removing existing carbon from the air — by reforestation for instance — or by trapping it and storing it safely through carbon capture and storage.

These can help neutralise our nation’s carbon output, or even help electricity generation go carbon negative.

How can we make decarbonisation happen quicker?

Experts at Deloitte Access Economics explain that we need structural economic change to ensure that decarbonisation is adopted as widely as it needs to be as a way to beat climate change.

Investing in alternative energies will create a situation for decarbonisation where “there are a multitude of job-rich, shovel-ready, stimulus opportunities that also unlock long-term value”.

Decarbonisation — the facts

  • In 2019, an independent study calculated that the UK has cut its carbon emissions faster than any other major developed nation — achieving a reduction of 38% since 1990.
  • The UK has made a legal commitment achieving at least net zero carbon emissions by 2050
  • 73% of global carbon output is caused by the energy consumption of a range of industries — including transport, heating, construction and production.


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