The Decarbonisation Race


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 obtained the 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 the 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.

Atlantic Power Exchange 

Atlantic Power exchange is developing future technologies to aid countries in adopting renewable energy sources with significant ease. This technology has great potential to help countries that are aiming to reduce their emission by accelerating their efforts just like Austria, Finland and Sweden.