What is Decarbonisation?

What is decarbonisation?
What is decarbonisation?

Decarbonisation refers to the process of reducing carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions that are released into the atmosphere from human activities. CO2 is a major greenhouse gas that contributes significantly to global warming and climate change. The goal of decarbonisation is to achieve net-zero carbon emissions, where any remaining emissions are balanced by carbon removal.

There are two main approaches to decarbonisation:

Reducing Carbon Emissions

This involves transitioning away from fossil fuels like coal, oil and natural gas, which produce high levels of CO2 when burned. Strategies include1:

  • Switching to renewable energy sources like solar, wind and hydropower that have zero direct emissions.
  • Improving energy efficiency to reduce overall energy demand.
  • Electrifying processes that currently rely on fossil fuels, like transportation and heating.
  • Using alternative fuels like green hydrogen and sustainable biofuels.

Removing Carbon from the Atmosphere

This involves actively capturing and storing CO2 using methods like1:

  • Planting trees and restoring forests which naturally absorb and store carbon.
  • Using carbon capture and storage (CCS) technology to capture emissions at the source and store them underground.
  • Direct air capture which chemically scrubs CO2 out of the air.
  • Enhancing natural carbon sinks like soils through improved land management.

Key areas for emissions reductions

Decarbonisation requires a whole systems approach across all sectors of the economy Key areas for emissions reductions include:

  • Power Generation: Phasing out coal and transitioning to renewable energy sources like wind and solar3.
  • Transportation: Electrifying vehicles, improving efficiency, and using alternative fuels like green hydrogen4.
  • Industry: Improving energy efficiency, electrifying processes, using hydrogen and sustainable bioenergy, and deploying carbon capture5.
  • Buildings: Switching to electric heating and appliances, improving insulation, and using smart technologies6.
  • Agriculture: Reducing fertilizer use, methane capture from livestock, soil carbon sequestration.

Achieving net-zero emissions globally requires rapid and deep decarbonization across all sectors. The IPCC estimates we must achieve carbon neutrality by around 2050 to limit warming to 1.5°C. This will involve fundamental changes to energy, transportation, industry, agriculture and society as a whole.

Decarbonisation presents technical and economic challenges but also opportunities to modernize infrastructure, create jobs and build sustainable industries. With political will and coordinated efforts across government, business and civil society, deep decarbonisation is achievable in order to avoid the worst impacts of climate change.

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