What is decarbonisation? A simple guide

As part of our "Use Cleaner, Use Less" launch, WME explains "decarbonisation", "net-zero", "carbon footprint" and "greenhouse gases"

The energy industry is typically full of confusing acronyms, and technical jargon. This is particularly the case when it comes to climate change.

“Decarbonisation”, “Net-Zero”, “Carbon Footprint”, ‘’Greenhouse Gases’’ are all terms you will be familiar with. But do you know what they mean, and why they matter?

Below, WME talk you through these terms in a way that all can understand, because we believe that understanding is the first step towards taking action against climate change.


What is “decarbonisation” and why do we need to reduce our “greenhouse gas emissions”?

Decarbonisation is a word commonly used by organisations looking to move towards ‘’net-zero’’, or reduce their carbon footprint … But what does it mean and why do we need to ‘’decarbonise’’?

Decarbonisation is the process of reducing Greenhouse Gas (GHG) emissions. This could be for a business, a home, a country, or the entire planet.

Overall, energy accounts for approximately 73% of all global GHG emissions and therefore is the key focus when looking to reduce these emissions. Other contributors include agriculture and changes in land use, such as building on green land and deforestation.

Energy use covers transport, electricity and heat, buildings, manufacturing and construction and other fuel combustion.

Why focus on Carbon Dioxide (CO2)?

There are many Greenhouse Gases, however Carbon Dioxide or CO2, which is emitted as a result of burning fossil fuels, accounts for approximately 82% of all UK emissions.

Like other greenhouse gases, CO2 absorbs radiation and prevents heat from escaping from our atmosphere. The high amount of atmospheric CO2 collects and stores heat which disrupts weather patterns, causing global temperatures to increase and other climate changes. While there are other gases that trap heat as well, CO2 represents the most significant risk of irreversible changes if it continues to accumulate at its current rate.  

How does CO2 get into the atmosphere?

Earth generates a natural amount of carbon on a constant cycle. Living things like animals and plants release CO2 when they respire (ie: breathing in oxygen and exhaling CO2) and nature maintains a balance by absorbing and therefore removing the CO2 via plants and the ocean. 

However, human activities like extracting, refining, transporting and burning fossil fuels emits too much greenhouse gases, including CO2, for the ecosystem to remove naturally. The CO2 generated by us relies on the same ecosystem to be removed, however, with mass amounts of deforestation happening at the same time, the imbalance is becoming more apparent and is causing damage to our environment. 

What is Net-Zero?

The UK became the world’s first major economy to set a target of being net zero by 2050 … But what does it mean?

Put simply, net zero refers to the balance between the amount of greenhouse gas produced and the amount removed from the atmosphere. We reach net zero when the amount we add is no more than the amount taken away. This can be applied to an individual, a city, a country, a business, or the whole planet.

Reaching net zero applies the same principal, requiring us to balance the amount of greenhouse gases we emit with the amount we remove. This state is also referred to as carbon neutral; although zero emissions and zero carbon are slightly different, as they usually mean that no emissions were produced in the first place.

WME are currently on our journey to net zero, as are many of our public sector customers. 

What is a “Carbon Footprint” and how do I measure it?

To enable people to better understand how damaging human activities can be for the environment, we have created terms such as “carbon emissions” and “carbon footprint”.

Carbon emissions, measured in CO2e, is a unit that measures the carbon dioxide equivalent that may be released from a chosen human activity. The lower the CO2e, the lower the impact the activity has on the environment. For example, sending an email emits 4g of CO2e, whereas a return plane journey from London to Hong Kong generates 3.4 tonnes of CO2e.

A carbon footprint, on the other hand, is the sum of all emissions of CO2, which were induced by your activities in a given time frame. Usually, a carbon footprint is calculated for the duration of a year.

WME customers can utilise our “Carbon Calculator” on MYWME, enabling you to review your carbon emissions linked specifically to the energy you use.

Published: 31-03-2022

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