What is decarbonisation?

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What is decarbonisation?

In an era where climate change is no longer a distant threat but a pressing reality, the need for action to mitigate carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions has never been more urgent. In the quest for a sustainable future, decarbonisation stands as a cornerstone principle, driving efforts to mitigate climate change and reduce our carbon footprint. As part of the triad of digitalisation, decarbonisation and demographics shaping the future of infrastructure, decarbonisation emerges as a powerful force altering the way we design, develop, and manage our built environment. Today we explore the critical role of decarbonisation in the evolution of infrastructure and how it intertwines with digitalisation and demographic shifts to pave the way for a greener and more resilient future.

Reducing carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions

Decarbonisation is the process of lowering carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions brought on by human activity. More precisely, this means switching to an economic system that sustainably reduces and compensates for CO2 emissions. The long-term goal is to create a CO2-free global economy. Decarbonisation is a keyword in the sustainability strategy of many companies to limit global temperature rise and reduce man-made CO2 emissions as quickly as possible.

Understanding the challenge

Carbon dioxide, a greenhouse gas primarily emitted through the burning of fossil fuels for energy, industrial processes, and deforestation, is a major contributor to global warming. The consequences of unchecked CO2 emissions are far-reaching, from rising temperatures and extreme weather events to sea-level rise and biodiversity loss. To avoid the most catastrophic impacts of climate change, drastic reductions in CO2 emissions are imperative.

The path to a CO2-free global economy

Achieving a CO2 emissions-free global economy requires a multifaceted approach encompassing policy interventions, technological innovations, and shifts in consumer behaviour.

Renewable energy revolution

Central to decarbonising the economy is the widespread adoption of renewable energy sources such as solar, wind, hydroelectric, and geothermal power. The plummeting costs of renewables, coupled with advancements in energy storage and grid management technologies, are making it increasingly feasible to transition away from fossil fuels.

Electrification of transportation

The transportation sector is a significant contributor to CO2 emissions, primarily through the combustion of gasoline and diesel in cars, trucks, ships, and aeroplanes. The electrification of transportation, facilitated by the rapid development of electric vehicles (EVs) and the expansion of charging infrastructure, presents a viable solution. Transitioning to EVs not only reduces emissions but also enhances energy efficiency and decreases dependence on oil.

Green buildings and sustainable infrastructure

The construction and operation of buildings account for a considerable share of global energy consumption and CO2 emissions. Green building practices, including energy-efficient design, passive heating and cooling, and the use of sustainable materials, can significantly reduce the carbon footprint of infrastructure. Additionally, investments in public transportation, smart urban planning, and resilient infrastructure can further mitigate emissions.

Carbon capture and storage (CCS) technologies

While efforts to minimise CO2 emissions are crucial, some sectors, such as heavy industry and aviation, may continue to produce unavoidable emissions. Carbon capture and storage technologies (CCS) offer a means of capturing CO2 emissions at the source and storing them underground or repurposing them for other industrial processes. Continued research and investment in CCS are essential for achieving decarbonisation across all sectors.

Circular economy and sustainable consumption

Transitioning to a CO2 emissions-free economy also entails reimagining our production and consumption patterns. Embracing a circular economy model, which prioritises resource efficiency, recycling, and waste reduction, can significantly reduce emissions associated with manufacturing and consumption. Moreover, promoting sustainable lifestyles, including conscious consumption and minimalism, can further curb emissions and foster a culture of environmental stewardship.

Decarbonisation in action

Global decarbonisation is a huge undertaking, requiring a highly integrated approach, especially if we want to prevent shifting CO2 emissions from one part of the economy to another. Certain industries have greater transitional challenges and are known as the ‘hard-to-abate’ sectors. These face issues with long asset lifespans, where legacy equipment is expensive to replace, high energy dependency, and the complexity of electrification. Together, these sectors account for 20% of global CO2 emissions.

Growing numbers of nations are making commitments to reach net zero emissions in the next several decades. But even if all of the pledges by governments are fulfilled, they still fall far short of what will be needed to bring global energy-related carbon dioxide emissions to net zero by 2050 and give the world a fair chance of limiting the rise in global temperature to 1.5 °C.

McKinsey’s analysis of the NGFS Net Zero 2050 scenario suggests that about $275 trillion in cumulative spending on physical assets, or approximately $9.2 trillion per year, would be needed between 2021 and 2050 across the sectors that we studied.

Study the 3 Ds at PFH

Over the past 30 years, the requirements of students and employers regarding course offerings have changed tremendously. Future designers are faced with the challenge of finding effective and innovative solutions in business, society and politics for the three defining trends of our time:

  • Digitalisation
  • Decarbonisation
  • Demography


Students at PFH receive a thorough introduction to the 3 Ds at the start of their studies. Our professors also offer topics for bachelor’s and master’s theses as well as lectures, workshops and excursions related to the 3 Ds. Moreover, the best theses with a direct connection to the 3 Ds are awarded by the departments every year.


Many research projects at PFH are closely related to the 3 Ds and are funded by the university. We regularly publish our professors’ research papers, thereby providing impetus for practice.

Further training

We are currently in the process of creating a certificate course on the topic of the 3 Ds that will be available through our PFH Academy. This innovative training programme will prepare managers from business, administration and politics for the key challenges of the future.

Thanks for taking the time to read our blog post on what is decarbonisation. Should you choose to start your studies here, take a look at the different study programmes we offer.

At PFH we make sure you receive a high-quality education while fully experiencing being a distance learning student!