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The Decarbonisation Race

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From the developed economies these countries have had declining carbon dioxide emissions in the past 10 years. These economies share some common themes that can show Australia, and the world, a viable path to reducing emissions. Global CO₂ emissions from fossil fuels continue to increase, with record high emissions in 2018 and further growth anticipated for 2019. This trend is linked to global economic growth, which is largely still obtains majority of its energy from fuels.

Significant reductions in the energy and carbon intensities of the global economy have not had an adequate impact on the global emission levels. But these countries have been doing something different. A new analysis sheds light on how they have changed their emission trajectories.  

There is no “silver bullet”, and every economy has its unique approach, but three themes emerge from the group:  

  •  High penetration of renewable energy in the electricity sector,  
  •  A decline in energy use, and  
  • A high number of energy and climate policies in place.   

Something is working for these countries. 

Australia was excluded from the group, as its CO₂ emissions from the burning of fossil fuels remained largely stable over the study period 2005-2015 while the country’s economy grew. However, emissions of all greenhouse gases across all sectors of the economy (including land use change) declined over most of the same period, a trend that reversed in 2014 since when emissions have increased.

The 18 countries shown below all peaked their fossil fuel emissions no later than 2005 and had significant declines thereafter to 2015, the period covered by our study.


Image: Le Quéré et al. Nature Climate Change (2019) based on data from the International Energy Agency @IEA/OECD. Changes in CO2 emissions from fossil fuel combustion for 18 countries with declining emissions during 2005-2015. Countries are ordered by how soon their emissions peaked and began to decline.

The largest contribution to emissions reductions (about 47%) was attributable to energy production, while reductions in overall energy use contributed 36%. Notwithstanding this, there are large differences in the factors that drove this change in each country. For instance, energy use reduction dominated emissions reductions in many countries of the European Union, whereas a number of factors drove the change in the United States, with the single largest contributor being the switch from coal to gas. In Austria, Finland and Sweden increased share of non-fossil and renewable energy drove this change.

The lasting consequences of the 2008 global financial crisis on the global economy did have an impact, and partially explained the reduced energy use in many countries.

Distribute Energy Resources

The renewable power generation has taken many forms. One underlying trend is the decentralisation of energy generation and increasing the number of micro-generators and virtual power plants. These type of energy generators are becoming more viable through the significant reduction in technology costs. The next step for maximising the benefits of the micro-generation is to integrate them remotely and to allow them to participate in the electricity market in unison.

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Michael Khachiki's picture

Thank Michael for the Post!

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Matt Chester's picture
Matt Chester on March 19, 2019

It's a modern day space race, but we can all win-- this is really how it should be treated. Global mobilization, with the prize being the economic benefits that come with it. Great overview

Michael Khachiki's picture
Michael Khachiki on April 14, 2019

This is great way of looking at this, Opportunity.

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