As the planet warms up, governments, businesses, and consumers are accelerating their commitments to decarbonization – that is, the process of cutting down and eventually totally eliminating carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions from our daily activities.
The latest report released by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) emphasizes the urgency to achieve complete decarbonization by 2050, to limit the rise in the global temperature to 2 degrees Celsius.
In practice, there are two aspects to decarbonization. The first entails reducing the greenhouse gas emissions produced by the combustion of fossil fuels. This can be done by preventing emissions through the use of zero-carbon renewable energy sources such as wind, solar, hydropower, geothermal and biomass. The second aspect is absorbing carbon from the atmosphere by capturing emissions and enhancing carbon storage in agricultural lands and forests.
Why is Decarbonization Important?
Through the burning of fossil energy sources, greenhouse gasses are emitted into the atmosphere, triggering the greenhouse effect. This is a key driver behind global warming and, consequently, climate change. Scientists have been warning us that even moderate increases in the global temperature can trigger domino effects that will gravely affect the Earth and, consequently, our lives.
In addition to ecological concerns, there are various other financial and regulatory factors that are driving the industries’ motivations to accelerate decarbonization. These are:
1. Stakeholder and Investor Community Pressure: Companies of all sizes are witnessing increased pressure from stakeholders and the investor community to make concrete efforts toward sustainability by prioritizing decarbonization.
2. Federal, State, and Local Regulations Policies and Regulations: Regulations and fines imposed by federal, state, and local governments have played a significant role in the increased focus on decarbonization efforts among organizations. Incentives have further impacted the rise in actionable goals and allowed organizations to future-proof their business from looming legislation.
3. Rising Energy Costs: With many regions anticipating a significant rise in electricity costs, organizations are paying close attention to their energy costs and carbon impact.
4. Peer and Consumer Perception: Customers are making purchase decisions based upon the actions, morals, values, and mission of organizations.
Combating Climate Change with Decarbonization
Reducing carbon emissions is a proven and leading way to mitigate global warming. To be a meaningful part of this change, organizations recognize this as not only a social responsibility commitment but a critical business decision.
If global warming is not limited to 2 degrees Celsius, humanity will already face several issues, such as:
- A 29 percent increase in ocean acidification by 2050
- The ocean could rise 19.7 inches by 2100
- 98 percent of coral reefs would be at risk
- A significant rise in category 5 cyclones
- Global migration events due to extreme weather and environmental conditions
Global Decarbonization Goals
Decarbonization has become a global imperative and a priority for governments, companies and society at large. Since the Paris Climate Agreement in 2015, if not before, numerous states and companies worldwide have committed themselves to decarbonization.
Also, the global energy mix is shifting from fossil fuels to renewables. There are abundant examples of both public and private organizations working hard to decarbonize the economy.
However, while progress is being made at global, national, sector and local levels, recent estimates suggest we are not on track to meet the Paris targets, and more must be done.
How do we decarbonize?
Decarbonization can be achieved by decreasing the amount of CO2 emitted across industries. It requires a fundamentally different energy system, by using alternative energy sources based on green electricity and green molecules (such as biofuels and hydrogen).
To decarbonize, all aspects of the economy must change, from how energy is generated, and how we produce and deliver goods and services, to how lands are managed. Acceleration of decarbonization is needed to achieve the net zero goals.