What is Decarbonisation? – Everything you need to know!

16 March, 2022

What is Decarbonisation and what is happening in the UK

Decarbonisation is a wonder word and a miracle solution to the climate crisis. Back from the days of the Kyoto Protocol and the Paris agreement, to IPCC’s yearly reports, decarbonising the atmosphere through our business practices has become the go-to pathway to a sustainable future. Leading billionaires, entrepreneurs and philanthropists have taken green initiatives and poured billions into decarbonising solutions—think Elon Musk’s push for electric vehicles or Bill Gates’s solar engineering technology to reduce earth’s temperature.

As far as promises go, a recent report noted that 111 of the world’s 167 biggest-emitting companies have set a net-zero greenhouse gas emissions reduction target – to bring down CO2 equivalent emissions by 3.7 billion tonnes a year by 2030. And more tha half of UK’s FTSE 100 companies have signed up to the UN’s Race to Zero campaign.

Surrounded by ideals of a low-carbon economy and constant institutional push to go green has brought the term decarbonisation under the spotlight. But what does it truly mean? What should your business be wary of, and does this stance hold the key to climate positivity?

Table of contents

  1. What is Decarbonisation
  2. Simplifying Decarbonisation and sustainability jargon:
  3. Carbon neutrality
  4. Net zero
  5. Carbon sequestration
  6. Scopes 1, 2 and 3
  7. Carbon budget
  8. Peaking emissions
  9. Why is decarbonisation important?
  10. What’s happening in the UK?
  11. Companies pledging to go net-zero & carbon-neutral
  12. Is Decarbonisation possible?

What is Decarbonisation

The simplest textbook definition of decarbonisation is to limit or remove man-made carbon dioxide emissions from the atmosphere, globally, as soon as possible.

Decarbonisation refers to the process of reducing carbon emissions and the amount of carbon in the atmosphere. This is often done in an effort to combat climate change, as carbon emissions are a major contributor to global warming.

Decarbonisation can be achieved through a variety of methods, such as increasing the use of renewable energy sources, implementing energy-efficient technologies, and reducing the consumption of fossil fuels.

Decarbonisation can also involve carbon capture and storage, which involves capturing carbon emissions and storing them underground or in other secure locations, rather than releasing them into the atmosphere. Overall, decarbonisation is an important part of the global effort to combat climate change and reduce the impact of human activity on the environment.

Scope 1 2 3 decarbonisation

The ultimate goal is to reach net-zero emissions by eliminating GHG and reducing carbon intensity in every industry. Green or renewable energy or investing in low-carbon technologies — wind and solar power, geothermal energy — resource efficiency, monitoring your tasks is the key to achieving these goals. 

Simplifying Decarbonisation and sustainability jargon:

1. Carbon neutrality

Carbon neutrality refers to when companies emit the same about of CO2 from the atmosphere as they produce. By definition, carbon neutrality means every ton of anthropogenic CO2 emitted is compensated with an equivalent amount of CO2 removed. It can be achieved at a domestic level with offsets in place.

It is not to be confused with net-zero carbon emissions which refers to the complete elimination of any carbon emissions.


2. Net zero

Net-zero GHG emissions refer to the complete elimination of all greenhouse gases, as opposed to just carbon dioxide.


3. Carbon sequestration

Carbon sequestration refers to the natural or artificial process by which carbon dioxide is removed from the atmosphere and stored in solid or liquid form. The ocean, atmosphere, soil and forests are the world’s largest carbon sinks.

carbon sequestration


4. Scopes 1, 2 and 3

Scopes 1, 2 and 3 refer to the different kinds of carbon emissions a company creates.

Scope 1 emissions are the direct GHG emissions occurring from sources that are owned or controlled by the company;

Scope 2 accounts for indirect emissions from the generation of purchased electricity or other facilities consumed by a company and;

Emissions are a consequence of the activities of the company, but occur from sources not owned or controlled by the company are scope 3 emissions

scope 1 emissions, scope 2 emissions, scope 3 emissions

Scope 1, 2 & 3 emissions


5. Carbon budget

Carbon budget is the amount of CO2 the world can emit while still having a likely chance of limiting warming to the 2°C targets.


6. Peaking emissions

Peaking emissions refer to emissions reaching a specified maximum level by a particular date before declining afterwards. It is critical to determine the global emissions trajectory timeline and ambition, as in the case of the Paris Agreement.

Why is decarbonisation important?

Decarbonisation is important for a number of reasons, including:

a. Reducing the impact of climate change

Carbon emissions are a major contributor to climate change, which can have significant impacts on the environment and human health. By reducing carbon emissions through decarbonisation, we can help slow the rate of climate change and mitigate its effects.

b. Improving air quality

Carbon emissions are also a major source of air pollution, which can have harmful effects on human health. By reducing carbon emissions, we can improve air quality and help reduce the incidence of respiratory and other health problems.

c. Preserving natural resources

Decarbonisation can also help preserve natural resources, such as forests and oceans, which are important for maintaining a healthy environment. By reducing the demand for fossil fuels, we can help conserve these resources and prevent their depletion.

c. Supporting economic growth

Decarbonisation can also support economic growth by creating new jobs and industries in the renewable energy and clean technology sectors. This can help drive innovation and foster the development of new technologies and solutions to help combat climate change.

What’s happening in the UK?

Following COP 26, the UK decided to embark on the path to reaching net zero emissions by 2050. The strategy encourages industries to make net zero planning mandatory amongst other things, but most importantly, immediately work on decarbonising UK’s biggest emission industry — transport. The results are yet to unfold. A report earlier last month charted the fall in greenhouse gas emissions to 9.5% lower in 2020 compared to the year before, owing to the lockdown. Experts fear the rise in CO2 emissions as the biggest threat to UK’s net-zero goals in the post-pandemic world.

Out of UK FTSE100 companies, Vodafone has vowed to cut its own carbon emissions to zero by 2030, then eliminate all of its value chain emissions by 2040, achieving net-zero emissions.

Companies following the decarbonisation path and pledging net-zero & carbon-neutrality

climate neutral net zero climate positive

AstraZeneca has committed to attaining carbon neutrality across its entire value chain by 2030 and reaching zero global carbon emissions from its operations by 2025. Their strategy includes employing 100% renewable energy among other things. 

Rolls-Royce has committed to net zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2030, by establishing a circular economy approach where up to 95% of their jet engines will be recycled.

Legal and General, UK financial services provider, announced to open UK’s first net-zero carbon retirement community by 2030, where all their homes built in central Bedfordshire will be capable of operating at net zero carbon emissions in the next 10 years.

Sainsbury is contributing by their commitment to reducing food waste, plastic packaging and water usage, while Barratts, the leading housing company, has already reduced its carbon emissions by 21%, gearing towards constructing hydroelectric turbines. 

Is Decarbonisation possible?

The challenges to decarbonising the environment remain at an all-time high as the four sectors that contribute one of the highest of emissions include cement, steel, ammonia and ethylene. These sectors face a development paradox as they are to cater as primary supporters to industries meant to upload existing economies and growing demands. However, decarbonising them is possible with hefty price tags, will for innovation and change. All in all, industrial companies in every sector have the potential to drastically lower their carbon emissions quickly by collaborating with stakeholders and implementing management systems. 

There is a growing need to adopt a new set of Sustainable Development Goals that aim to “Transform the World”. Change comes with collective effort, mutual understanding and knowledge towards specific goals. 

Despite the UN and other international organisations making crucial decisions, the result is far from expected. It made me wonder what it is that we are falling short on? Is it the lack of interest or lack of awareness? 

That’s when I had a eureka moment, and it suddenly started to make all sense. Many people don’t know the complicated terms and references that are used when we talk about sustainability. The idea inspired me to create a new series called “The ABCs of Sustainability Development”. I hope that this series of blogs is well received and serves its purpose.

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