As the planet warms up, governments, businesses, and activists talk more and more about 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 emphasizes the urgency for humanity to achieve complete decarbonization by 2050, so that humanity can limit the rise in the global temperature to 2 degrees Celsius.1
But why is decarbonization so urgent, and why do 2 degrees matter so much?
Does the world have the means to ensure humanity will completely decarbonize, before it’s too late?
Keep reading to gain more knowledge about these critical issues, and to learn how individual action can help reduce and eliminate CO2 emissions… you can try decarbonization yourself!
The Urgency of Decarbonization
The 2015 Paris Agreement stressed the need for humans to “limit global warming to well below 2, preferably to 1.5 degrees Celsius, compared to pre-industrial levels” 2 to avoid severe social and environmental impacts.
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. A new study has shown that these cascading impacts could already happen if the global temperature rises up to 2 degrees.3
One example is the melting of ice sheets in Antarctica, which can lead to changes in how water circulates in the Atlantic Ocean, diminishing rainfall in the Amazon and potentially causing the famous rainforest to dry up.3
If global warming is not limited to 2 degrees Celsius, humanity will already face several issues, such as:4
- 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
According to a report the Climate Action Tracker released in May 2021, the world is falling behind the targets the Paris Agreement set in 2015. In addition, current global policies setting the pace of emissions reductions could lead to a global temperature rise of 3.9 degrees Celsius.5
Nonetheless, limiting global warming to 2 degrees is still possible if the world manages to achieve complete decarbonization by 2050 and ensure negative emissions after that year.6
But how would that be possible?
Pathways Towards Decarbonization
Even if the chance to limit global warming seems to be slipping through our fingers, governments, businesses, and industries across the world are committed to becoming carbon neutral by 2050.6
Ensuring energy efficiency is a core decarbonization strategy among organizations and industries. These have been aiming at energy-efficient appliances, buildings, cars, boats, planes, and industrial procedures.
The widespread use of renewable energy sources (wind, solar, biomass, and others) and phasing out fossil fuels is also at the heart of companies committed to completely decarbonize. As a matter of fact, renewable sources currently generate a roughly 33 percent of the global power capacity.7
The transportation sector also carries a big responsibility when it comes to achieving zero emissions. Because of that, many technological advancements have been favoring the use of greener technologies – such as electric vehicles and hydrogen fuel cells – at a large scale. Likewise, banning the circulation of diesel vehicles and expanding the network of public transportation powered by renewable sources are targets.
Capturing carbon from facilities is also a strategy enabling decarbonization. Carbon capture and storage (CCS) technologies can trap 90 percent of CO2 emissions produced in industrial and power plants. Because many industrial processes unavoidably emit carbon, CCS technologies are seen as the only means to accomplish complete decarbonization in these sectors. 8
Besides these technologies applied to preventing carbon from being released to the atmosphere, complete decarbonization can be achieved by removing carbon from the atmosphere via strategies as simple as tree planting.
As trees sequester CO2 during photosynthesis and store great quantities of carbon, they are great allies in the effort to limit global warming to 2 degrees Celsius.
Through 2030, tree planting can mitigate 18 percent of climate change.9 Young forests sequester great quantities of carbon as trees grow. Moreover, recent studies have found that the rate of carbon absorption increases as trees age. If deforestation occurs, not only the planet loses important carbon sinks, but all the carbon stored in the forest across years is released into the atmosphere. So, maintaining standing forests is also paramount to combat climate change. 9
Try Decarbonization Yourself
Governments and organizations have been taking action, developing technologies, and promoting the widespread use of cleaner, low carbon products and processes… but you can also play a large role in decarbonization.
The first step towards that is getting to know how much CO2 your daily activities send to the atmosphere. Doing so is simple, as reliable carbon footprint calculators are available.
After you know the extent to which you contribute to global warming, you can make simple changes in your routine to ensure you will lead a less carbon-intensive life:
- consuming less animal-based products
- reducing food and general waste
- biking and walking more
- reducing your energy consumption
- powering your house with renewable energy
- replacing old appliances and light bulbs for energy-efficient ones
- shopping local
- purchasing sustainable items, keeping an eye on those that deliver enhanced environmental benefits – such as supporting tree planting and protection – beyond being organic and low waste
- buying carbon offsets. Carbon offset programs encompass any strategy that ensures carbon emissions reductions or removals from the atmosphere
- sharing knowledge on ways to fight climate change
Achieving Complete Decarbonization by 2050
Getting back on track to meet the 2015 Paris Agreements targets is possible. Across the world, many have already committed to decarbonize.
From impressive technological advancements to activities humans have been developing for time immemorial, many strategies are available for combating global warming and ensuring healthier ecosystems and lives.
The important thing to remember is that every human plays an enormous role in the effort to achieve complete decarbonization by 2050. It is only through an integrated, holistic approach that the world can eliminate carbon emissions and build a greener home.
So, remember you are empowered to exert a positive influence in the world every day!
Read More About Reducing Emissions:
Carbon Neutral Companies: 25% of Fortune Global 500 Companies Commit to Carbon Neutrality
Co2 Emissions of the United States: Only Behind China in Leading Co2 Contributors in the World
Text Messaging & Emails Generate Carbon Emissions (Carbon Footprint)
The Average Carbon Footprint Per Person Is Rising Fast: Is It Too Late? (10 Ways to Help Now)
The Truth About Food Emissions: Does Eating Local Reduce Carbon Footprint?
Average American Carbon Footprint: Emissions by City and State (Updated 2023)
Carbon Offsets Don’t Work? Learn About Verified Climate Solutions (and More Explained)
Can Planting Trees Be Bad For The Environment? New Stanford Study Explains
Forestry Carbon Offsetting: Tree Planting to Offset Emissions for Companies Going Carbon Neutral
Natália G.R. de Mello
Environmental Science Contributor
Holding Doctorate and Master’s degrees in Environmental Science, Natália is passionate about forest restoration. In addition to previously publishing academic papers and book chapters, she has offered her expertise to a number of electronic magazines and websites. She believes humans have all means to create more harmonious relationships with nature and is passionate about sharing information on sustainable life choices. Born in the heart of the Amazon, she loves movies, books, yoga, black and white photography, and treehouses, and is thrilled to help spread the word about all things environmental.
1Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. Sixth Assessment Report. (9 Aug. 2021). Retrieved 18 August, 2021, from https://www.ipcc.ch/report/ar6/wg1/
2United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change. (n.d.). The Paris Agreement. Retrieved August 18, 2021, from https://unfccc.int/process-and-meetings/the-paris-agreement/the-paris-agreement
3Wunderling et al., N. (2020, March 26). Interacting tipping elements increase risk of climate domino effects under global warming. Retrieved August 18, 2021, from https://esd.copernicus.org/articles/12/601/2021/
4Pearce, R. (n.d.). Interactive: The impacts of climate change at 1.5C, 2C and beyond. Retrieved August 18, 2021, from https://interactive.carbonbrief.org/impacts-climate-change-one-point-five-degrees-two-degrees/
5Climate Action Tracker. (n.d.). Retrieved August 18, 2021, from https://climateactiontracker.org/documents/853/CAT_2021-05-04_Briefing_Global-Update_Climate-Summit-Momentum.pdf
6Vennix, E. (2021, May 26). What is decarbonisation? Retrieved August 18, 2021, from https://www2.deloitte.com/nl/nl/pages/energy-resources-industrials/articles/what-is-decarbonisation.html
7TWI Ltd. (n.d.). What is Decarbonisation? Retrieved August 18, 2021, from https://www.twi-global.com/technical-knowledge/faqs/what-is-decarbonisation.aspx
8Greenwald, J. (2021, May 11). Carbon Capture | Center for Climate and Energy Solutions. Retrieved August 18, 2021, from https://www.c2es.org/content/carbon-capture/
9Erickson-Davis, M. (2019, May 23). Tall and old or dense and young: Which kind of forest is better for the climate? Retrieved August 18, 2021, from https://news.mongabay.com/2019/05/tall-and-old-or-dense-and-young-which-kind-of-forest-is-better-for-the-climate/