11 Dec

Decarbonisation is necessary for industry and business to pave and strengthen the way for a carbon neutral Europe by 2050, as agreed under the EU's Green Deal. But what is behind the term decarbonisation? EHA clarifies its meaning and corresponding measures. 

Definition: What is decarbonisation?

The term decarbonisation is easy to explain it contains the word 'carbon' or 'carbon', which stands for carbon. Decarbonisation refers to the shift away from carbon and thus the scenario of a post-fossil, carbon-free economy, especially in the energy or power sector. 


How does decarbonisation work?

Decarbonisation works when the use of low-carbon energy is prioritised, and the use of fossil fuels is also minimised. Against the backdrop of timing, energy-intensive sectors must therefore quickly switch to climate-neutral energy sources. The decarbonisation strategy therefore addresses decarbonisation in addition to the circular economy and emissions trading. 

Decarbonisation in industry and the economy

Until now, the UK economy has drawn energy from nuclear and fossil fuel sources - i.e., nuclear energy, coal, and oil - with environmentally harmful carbon emissions consequently. Today it is known that the combustion of coal, natural gas or oil releases carbon, reaches the earth's atmosphere as CO2, creates the greenhouse effect and is responsible for the warming of the world's climate. With the decision to phase out coal and the ongoing process of energy transition, politicians have set themselves the goal of emitting less CO2. The UK's efforts are given additional weight by the Paris Climate Agreement of 2015, in which the global community also committed itself to a significant reduction of greenhouse gas emissions by 2035 - while adhering to the lower limit of 1.5 degrees Celsius. Most recently, EU Commission President Ursula von der Leyen gave renewed impetus to make Europe's industry and economy climate-neutral by 2050 with the "European Green Deal". 

Decarbonisation: Measures until 2050

For Europe to become a climate-neutral continent by 2050 at the latest, the energy-intensive sectors of cement, steel and chemicals must rapidly switch to climate-neutral energy sources and raw materials. This major goal is ambitious in terms of time. But what are possible ways to achieve the goal? 

How do we decarbonise?

The strategy must promote investments for a rapid conversion to CO2-free technologies and create new markets for sustainable products to achieve climate neutrality in time, finds Erika Bellmann, Climate Protection & Energy Policy Expert at WWF. And this is where the UK government is also called upon: politicians and political parties in the UK have not yet presented sufficient concepts. And this is even though it is well known that the processes of industry and business need to be optimised. There is enormous potential for savings in three sectors. 

1. Industry sector

One such example is industry. Two-thirds of industrial emissions are energy-related and could in principle be avoided using greenhouse gas-neutral energy sources with the help of the technologies required for this. A profound conversion of processes can therefore greatly reduce process-related emissions. However, this cannot be prevented: Climate-neutral substitute routes are not available for all products. Residual emissions will occur at some points. These would have to be compensated or used elsewhere. Further emissions can be reduced if electricity for transport is increasingly obtained from renewable energies. In this context, sector coupling is a promising approach. The transport and heat sectors are still lagging the electricity sector. But in this context, too, new processes such as flexible biogas plants, waste heat utilisation, heat from electricity, the power-to-gas approach and increasing electromobility can help to improve the figures even further in the future. 

2. Transport sector

Emissions in the transport sector have settled at a high level. In 2018, the transport sector was responsible for more than 19 percent of the UK's total greenhouse gas emissions. Nevertheless, for the first time, their share declined slightly in 2018 compared to the previous year. Incidentally, emissions that occur during the provision of traction current for rail transport are not considered. These are assigned to the stationary share of the energy sector (traction current power plants). But how can the sources of emissions be effectively reduced? The main levers are traffic reduction, route shortening, compliance with emission limits and the change of propulsion systems and energy sources. Other concrete measures for the mobility turnaround are: 

  • Reduce passenger transport - traffic-avoiding urban and spatial planning, incentives against urban sprawl, the promotion of virtual mobility as well as making air travel more expensive, etc. could enable a reduction of up to 20 percent.
  • Shift motorised individual transport to environmentally friendly means of transport. In addition, individual car traffic must be shifted to public transport, cycling infrastructures, and sharing offers, and truck traffic must be significantly transferred to the railways.
  • Reduce freight transport - For example, by promoting regional economic cycles, avoiding empty runs through intelligent management, and increasing the price of truck transport.
  • Rapid and comprehensive electrification of vehicles - i.e., the comprehensive expansion of e-mobility.
  • Convert remaining combustion engines to synthetic fuels by 2035 at the latest - This applies above all to air traffic and parts of heavy goods transport that cannot be electrified.

3. Building sector

In the real estate sector, old existing buildings are a particular problem for the climate balance. In 2018, the building sector was responsible for 15 percent of the UK's greenhouse gas emissions. So far, the energy refurbishment rate of about 1 percent is too low to be greenhouse gas neutral soon. Refurbishment, increased efficiency, and sufficiency in buildings - this is the guideline of the catalogue of measures. An increase in the renovation rate is needed to bring about complete or extensive coverage of the heating and hot water demand of the building stock by renewable energies. Or more concretely: 

  • Lever 1: Refurbish buildings to make them more energy-efficient - The UK government's political goals envisage 2 percent of all buildings, but for the UK goals by 2035, 4 percent would be needed. That doesn't sound like much at first. But in view of the masses of existing buildings, this is a value that has never been achieved historically.
  • Lever 2: Implement heat pumps, solar thermal collector systems or green local or district heating instead of heating systems based on fossil fuels.
  • Lever 3: Supply residual fossil heating systems with synthetic energy sources. Improved building insulation also plays a positive role in meeting demand.
  • For the decarbonisation of the building sector in the medium term, three questions need to be answered: How much living space is enough? How energy-efficient should buildings be? How should buildings be heated?


To achieve the UK's desired climate neutrality by 2035, which would also be an important step towards the EU Green Deal, additional measures and processes are needed. Not only in the three sectors presented, but everywhere where there is potential for savings through rethinking and new processes. It is a task for politics, industry, business and for all of us.

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