Decarbonisation Explained

Wednesday 19th June 2024

Decarbonisation is essential for mitigating climate change and achieving the goals set out in the Paris Agreement, a legally binding international treaty on climate change that came into force on 4 November 2016. Decarbonisation requires concerted efforts from governments, businesses and individuals to shift towards a more sustainable and resilient future. According to an analysis by PwC in the 2023 Net Zero Economy Index, the world achieved a decarbonisation rate of just 2.5% in 2022. This disappointing figure means that an ambitious year-on-year rate of 17.2% will need to be achieved from now until 2050 to limit global warming to 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels. These figures are a stark reminder that current action is not enough.

While the term ‘decarbonisation’ is commonly used in the energy sector, the specific understanding of the term and concept can vary widely among different groups. With this in mind, it’s time to demystify decarbonisation! 

What is Decarbonisation?  

Decarbonisation refers to the process of reducing carbon dioxide (CO₂) emissions associated with human activities, especially those related to the burning of fossil fuels such as coal, oil and natural gas. This process aims to mitigate the adverse effects of climate change by transitioning to a low-carbon or carbon-neutral economy.

What Are the Key Components and Strategies Involved in Decarbonisation?

Renewable Energy

  • Solar Power: Harnessing energy from the sun through photovoltaic cells or solar thermal systems.
  • Wind Power: Using wind turbines to generate electricity.
  • Hydropower: Generating electricity from the flow of water in rivers or dams.
  • Geothermal Energy: Utilising heat from the earth’s interior for power generation and heating.

Energy Efficiency

  • Buildings: Improving insulation, using energy-efficient appliances and implementing smart building technologies.
  • Industrial Processes: Enhancing the efficiency of manufacturing processes and adopting energy-saving technologies.


  • Transportation: Shifting from internal combustion engine vehicles to electric vehicles (EVs).
  • Heating and Cooling: Using electric heat pumps and other efficient electric systems instead of fossil fuel-based systems.

Carbon Capture and Storage (CCS)

  • Capturing CO₂ emissions from industrial sources and power plants and storing them underground or using them in other processes to prevent their release into the atmosphere.

Sustainable Agriculture and Land Use

  • Promoting practices that enhance carbon sequestration in soils and forests, such as reforestation, afforestation and sustainable land management.

Hydrogen Economy

  • Developing green hydrogen (produced using renewable energy) as a clean fuel alternative for various applications, including transportation and industry.

Policy and Regulation

  • Implementing carbon pricing mechanisms, such as carbon taxes or cap-and-trade systems, to incentivise emission reductions.
  • Setting regulatory standards and targets for emissions reductions at national and international levels.

Innovation and Technology

  • Investing in the research and development of new technologies and processes that reduce emissions and increase sustainability. 

Why Do Businesses Need to Prioritise Decarbonisation Efforts?

As businesses grapple with the challenges of economic uncertainty, supply chain issues and cybersecurity threats, they also have to contend with the significant role they play in contributing to global greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. Changes are required far beyond the energy sector as industries across the board are being urged to make considerable changes to the ways in which they operate. While many businesses see it as another challenge, when looked at more closely, it’s an opportunity for positive transformation and growth.

Environmental Responsibility

  • Climate Change Mitigation: Reducing GHG emissions is essential to mitigate the impacts of climate change. Businesses play a significant role in this by adopting sustainable practices that decrease their carbon footprint.
  • Biodiversity and Ecosystems: Decarbonisation helps protect biodiversity and ecosystems that are adversely affected by climate change. By reducing emissions, businesses contribute to the health of the planet's natural systems.

Economic Benefits

  • Cost Savings: Implementing energy-efficient processes and technologies can lead to substantial cost savings. Reduced energy consumption translates into lower operational costs.
  • Risk Management: Climate change poses financial risks, including damage to assets and supply chain disruptions. Decarbonisation helps businesses mitigate these risks by fostering resilience against climate-related impacts.
  • Market Opportunities: The shift towards a low-carbon economy creates new market opportunities. Businesses that innovate and invest in green technologies can tap into emerging markets and gain a competitive advantage. 

Regulatory Compliance

  • Legal Requirements: Governments worldwide are enacting stricter environmental regulations to curb emissions. Businesses need to comply with these regulations to avoid penalties and legal repercussions.
  • Future-Proofing: Anticipating and adapting to future regulatory changes can position businesses advantageously. Proactive decarbonisation efforts ensure that companies are ahead of regulatory trends.

Reputational and Social Factors

  • Consumer Demand: There is a growing consumer preference for environmentally responsible products and services. Businesses that prioritise decarbonisation can enhance their brand reputation and attract eco-conscious customers.
  • Investor Expectations: Investors are increasingly considering environmental, social and governance (ESG) criteria in their investment decisions. Companies with strong decarbonisation strategies are more attractive to investors seeking sustainable investments.
  • Employee Engagement: A commitment to sustainability can improve employee morale and attract talent. People want to work for companies that align with their values, including environmental stewardship.

Ethical Imperative

  • Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR): Businesses have a moral obligation to operate responsibly and minimise their environmental impact. Decarbonisation is a key aspect of fulfilling this responsibility.
  • Intergenerational Equity: By reducing emissions today, businesses help ensure a healthier planet for future generations. This ethical consideration is crucial for long-term sustainability.

Innovation and Leadership

  • Driving Innovation: The pursuit of decarbonisation fosters innovation as businesses seek new technologies and processes to reduce emissions. This can lead to breakthroughs that benefit the broader industry. 
  • Industry Leadership: Companies that lead in decarbonisation set benchmarks for their peers and influence industry standards. Leadership in sustainability can enhance a company’s standing and influence.

The National Subsea Centre is currently undertaking the Energy Hub Planning Tool (EHPT) project, one of the three NSC-led work packages within the larger Data for Net Zero (D4NZ) project awarded in 2021 to the Net Zero Technology Centre from the Scottish Government’s Energy Transition Fund. Given the challenges related to the desired rapid decarbonisation of the energy sector, the overall aim of D4NZ is to accelerate the transition towards a net-zero future by delivering a Smart Energy Basin (grounded in advanced data science, visualisation and modelling) that can facilitate cross-sectorial optimal decision-making.

While the National Subsea Centre (NSC) and Robert Gordon University (RGU) work closely with students and staff to reduce emissions through a range of initiatives and investments, the importance of collaborating with industry to help shape future skills requirements is also greatly recognised.

With the number of roles within the offshore energy sector set to rise as a result of the transition to decarbonised energies and those already employed in oil and gas making the leap, RGU is embracing the move by offering a range of upskilling and training courses and research degrees.

To discover more about how our teams are solving real-world problems and the other impactful research projects that are currently being undertaken, view our dedicated Integrated Energy webpage and Net Zero Operations webpage