The performance of a country in reducing the risks of climate change through decarbonisation of their infrastructure and economy can be measured in many ways. We might look at the per capita emissions (carbon dioxide per person per year). Or at the carbon intensity of the economy (carbon dioxide per unit of GDP). Or at the carbon intensity of the energy system (carbon dioxide per megawatt-hour of energy produced). These metrics measure different aspects of performance, and nations rise and fall in the 'league table' of carbon emissions depending on the metric. All of these metrics are used at various times in CCR projects.

The goal of CCR is not simply to characterise the carbon performance of a nation or community, but rather to identify and then help implement strategies to improve that performance. This is accomplished through projects that build the business case for decarbonisation and identify strategies that will help a nation implement decarbonisation projects while maintaining economic prosperity. To date, those projects have been in the US, India, Abu Dhabi, China, Taiwan, Mexico and the UK.

How much decarbonisation is required to prevent the worst risks of climate change? The policy goal established globally, and adopted by all of our projects, are discussed in the main Targets page of this website. They are an 80% reduction in annual carbon dioxide emissions by 2050 in the developed nations (Annex I nations under the UNFCCC), and at least a 50% reduction globally. Developing economies (non-Annex I) will continue to increase emissions until around 2030 and then begin the process of reducing. In the meantime, they will reduce their carbon intensity (emissions per unit GDP).

The challenge in reaching such targets - and hence the challenge for decarbonisation - is shown in a scientific paper M. Meinshausen et al, "Greenhouse-gas emission targets for limiting global warming to 2 °C", Nature, 458, 1158-1162, 2009. In that paper, the authors calculate the probability that the world will exceed the 2 degree C ceiling in increased mean global temperature if a given amount of carbon dioxide is released between 2000 and 2050. The bottom line is that the total amount released can be no more than 1000 to 1500 Gt (billion tons). We have already released half of this between 2000 and 2015, leaving only 500 to 750 Gt available for release into the atmosphere between 2015 and 2050. That is a real challenge since we currently are emitting on the order of 40 Gt annually around the world, and we are still 35 years from 2050!.

A cautionary tale

The problem is the known global reserves of fossil fuels already targeted for removal, sale and use by the fuel companies. If those were burned in current technologies, the result would be more than 3000 Gt released, far above the number that would be acceptable from the perspective of climate change. The key is to find a way to keep those reserves in the ground, or create a way to use them that does not involve releasing carbon dioxide to the atmosphere (for example, using carbon capture and storage, or switching to the use of carbon for materials rather than energy).

These are valuable resources to the fuel companies and their investors. The stock value of these companies relies largely on having these reserves to eventually extract and sell. These companies need to be nudged towards leaving this carbon in the ground (or using the carbon for purposes other than energy, such as creating carbon-based materials for products). Hence our support of the movement of carbon divestment, with major investment funds shedding these stocks and replacing them with low carbon options.

Interested in your own carbon footprint, or that of your household or organisation? Download the CCR Carbon Footprint Calculator to understand both the size of your footprint and the causes (so you can begin to identify strategies of reduction).

However.... Be aware that the carbon intensity of electricity production has been declining (improving) rapidly over the past decades in much of the developed world as renewables come on line. You will need to check the intensity in your own power grid and adjust this cell of the model accordingly (it is under the Electricity tab). It currently shows 0.000537 tCO2/kWh. In the UK, the intensity is approaching 0.0002 tCO2/kWh.