There might be a range of ways to address emissions across society.
A key focus might involve addressing emissions specifically across the different industries and sectors.
In the guide below, we discuss addressing emissions across the following main sectors or industries:
– Energy and electricity (power) generation sector
– Transport sector
– Industrial sector
– Residential and commercial sectors
– Agriculture, forestry, and other land use
Firstly, What Are The Industries & Sectors That Emit The Most Greenhouse Gases?
How To Address Emissions In The Energy & Electricity Generation Sector
Firstly, What Is The Energy & Electricity Generation Sector Comprised Of?
The generation of electricity (from power plants and other sources of power generation), and the transmission and distribution of that electricity (via power transmission lines and other infrastructure)
Main Causes Of Emissions In Energy & Electricity Generation
In several countries, fossil fuels, and coal in particular might be responsible for the majority of emissions in the electricity generation sector.
– In China
– In the US
Paraphrased from epa.gov, and c2es.org, in the US in 2016:
[In the US, most carbon dioxide comes from fossil fuels]
[Coal specifically accounts for 67% of CO2 emissions from the electricity generation sector, but only represents 32% of total electricity generated]
[Natural gas provides roughly the same amount of electricity as coal, but emits less CO2]
– In Canada
From nrcan.gc.ca, in Canada in 2016:
[Coal accounted for] less than 9% of total electricity generation [… but] was responsible for 75% of electricity related GHG emissions in 2016 …
– More Information
We’ve provided more information on the carbon footprint of different energy sources (when used for electricity) in these guides:
Potential Solutions To Emissions In Energy & Electricity Generation
The potential solutions below come from our own knowledge, but also paraphrased and summarised information from various reports from epa.gov, c2es.org, auma.ca, nrcan.gc.ca, wri.org, and ucsusa.org:
– Consider overall electricity production and consumption metrics
Such as total electricity production/consumption, per capita electricity production/consumption, and who the biggest consumers of electricity are across society. This might be measured in kWh (total, and per capita).
Electricity production and consumption efficiency is also a key metric
Total electricity production/consumption may be important to track because using cleaner energy sources for electricity generation may not have as much of an impact if total electricity production/consumption continues to increase
– Consider using cleaner energy sources for electricity generation
Different energy sources have different emissions rates per kWh of electricity they deliver
Switching to cleaner energy sources may decrease emission rates
Examples might include substituting a % of coal for natural gas, or, substituting a % of fossil fuels for nuclear or renewables
In some instances, combined heat and power may also be beneficial from an emissions perspective
Additionally, district heating may be better for the direct production of heat in some buildings, but, note that non residential and residential buildings may need different heating systems.
Some countries have begun phasing out coal, or introduced renewable electricity standards, with varying degrees of success. Some have encountered challenges and issues in doing so.
Per climateaction.org (paraphrased):
[Based on a reduction of emissions to 9.5 Gt by 2050, and a target to keep warming below 2°C above pre-industrial temperatures, … the expanded] use of renewable energy and [improved] energy efficiency … can achieve … 90 per cent of this energy CO2 reduction
[To get to this point] … renewable energy sources should represent 80 per cent of global power generation and 65 per cent of total primary energy supply.
– Consider improving the combustion efficiency of power plants (new or existing plants), and improving their overall performance
By using new power plants that combust more efficiently, such as advanced coal turbines
Or, by using other types of turbines that might be more efficient in some ways, such as some natural gas powered turbines, or some combined-cycle turbines
Another approach might be using fuel that combusts more efficiently in power plants, such as pulverised coal
Another option might be upgrading/retrofitting existing power plants for better capacity, efficiency, or performance
– Consider how different ‘clean electricity generation’ technology can help with emissions
One example is ‘clean coal’ technology, such as CCS (carbon capture sequestration and storage)
– Consider improving transmission and distribution of electricity
Beyond power plants themselves, improvements to electricity transmission and distribution infrastructure could help with emissions
Examples might be improving the efficiency of transmission infrastructure, or reducing electricity transmission and distribution power loss in some grids (particularly for specific energy sources)
– Consider reducing the energy demand that gets put on power plants
This might be achieved by improving electricity end-use energy efficiency – in buildings, homes, industry, and with other end-users of electricity
In the residential and commercial sector, it could be via overall building design, more efficient appliances and lighting, and other features
In the industrial sector, it could be via combined heat and power
Residential and commercial buildings consume the bulk of the world’s electricity and much of its natural gas.
Improving the design of new buildings and retrofitting old ones can dramatically improve their energy performance.
Many existing buildings can be made up to 90 percent more efficient, and new buildings are actually capable of producing more energy than they consume
– Consider various government tools to reduce emission
Such as policies, regulations, emissions thresholds/limits and standards for new and existing power plants, penalties and incentives for electricity producers, and so on
These tools may have tradeoffs to consider though
Carbon pricing may be an example of a tool with various tradeoffs
– Consider the cost estimates, and potential macroeconomic impact of transitioning to new energy sources
ourworldindata.org contains more information on cost estimates of transitioning to renewables in the future
climateaction.org has more information on cost estimates of the transition, as well as the potential macroeconomic impact
Something they mention is:
… decarbonising the energy sector alone might be around USD 29 trillion until 2050, however, this only amounts to a small share (0.4 per cent) of global gross domestic product (GDP)
… delays will raise the costs of decarbonisation
How To Address Emissions In The Transport Sector
Main Causes Of Emissions In Transport
In a separate guide, we’ve already outlined what the main causes of emissions in transport might be
Potential Solutions To Emissions In Transport
Some of the main solutions to emissions in transport might be:
– Consider placing focus on the total miles/kilometres travelled by all vehicles per year
Walking more, or substituting some travel with pedal powered bikes might help reduce total distance travelled with single passenger cars and other vehicles
Remote work/work from home employment might also help decrease total annual travel
– Consider placing focus on the total number of vehicles in use per year
The total number of vehicles on the road (and across other forms of transport) may be correlated with emissions
– Consider the passenger mile, or passenger kilometre emission rates of different types of transport
Mass transit and public transport for example might have more efficient passenger mile/kilometre rates than other types of transport, in large part because they have a larger carrying capacity
– Consider focussing specifically passenger cars and trucks (light duty, but also medium and heavy duty trucks) as types of transport
They are responsible for the largest % share of emissions of all types of transport in some countries
– Consider focussing specifically on the use petroleum based fuels (like gasoline, and diesel) vs the use of other transport fuels
They are responsible for the largest % share of emissions of all fuels in some countries
Some reports indicate that electrification of the transport sector might be important in reducing emissions
But, other reports may indicate that it may be more effective/have a higher ROI to focus emission reduction efforts on the power generation sector (specifically the stationary energy sector)
– Consider focussing specifically on the operation stage of a vehicle where fuel is combusted/burnt
This is where the largest emissions footprint generally is
But, also consider the emissions footprint at other stages of the vehicle lifecycle, such as the manufacturing stage
– Consider how the type and model of car plays a role in emissions
Traditional internal combustion vehicles (using petroleum based fuels) might currently be responsible for the most emissions
If we use China as one example, they intend on having 5 million electric cars on the road by 2020, but potential problems with that are that China’s energy grid is still mostly run on coal, and some reports indicate that both electric cars and traditional cars in China have similar CO2 emissions and PM2.5 levels per kilometer driven
So, each type and model of car might have tradeoffs to consider
– Consider that fuel economy/fuel efficiency, and tailpipe emission efficiency can only produce a certain level of results with emissions
Changes to vehicle weight, vehicle design, features like regenerative braking and carbon capture devices in the tailpipe, and other technologies, design, and materials, might only be able to achieve a certain emissions reduction amount
The same goes for improving driving practices and vehicle maintenance
Other solutions like cutting total consumption might be the solution that achieves the greatest emissions reduction
– Consider how car buyers/consumers can be better informed on the vehicle they are buying
Consumers might be given easier access to clear/transparent information not only on the performance of the car, but the emission rate (per mile), sustainability rating across other indicators, and so on
– Consider how cities are some of the most heavily concentrated areas for transport use
– Consider how city and town planning might help with more efficient travel
i.e. cities designed for less frequent braking, less total distance having to be travelled in cars, better access to public transport, having public transport rails that run parallel with main commuter roads, having walking and biking friendly roads, paths, and infrastructure, might be more sustainable in various ways
– Consider other miscellaneous solutions
The overall impact of carbon offsets in transport
The overall impact of legislation, regulations and tax schemes for emissions from vehicles. One example is emission standards for new cars. epthinktank.eu discusses this in greater detail.
– Consider the general pros and cons of more sustainable transport when addressing emissions
– epa.gov, c2es.org, greenfleet.com.au, ec.europa.eu and sciencedaily.com all outline some more potential solutions to address emissions in transport, in addition to what’s outlined above
How To Address Emissions In The Industrial Sector
What Is The Industrial Sector Comprised Of?
‘Industry’ includes a lot of the goods and raw materials we use every day in society.
It includes sub-industries like manufacturing, food processing, mining, and construction (iron, steel, and cement production are some major examples)
Common places where industrial activities can take place can include factories, warehouses, work yards, sites, and other industrial workplaces
Main Causes Of Emissions In Industry
Paraphrased from epa.gov and c2es.org, in the US:
[Greenhouse gases emitted during industrial production can be categorised into direct emissions, & also indirect emissions]
[Direct emissions are emitted on-site/at the industrial facility – from things such as burning fuel for power or heat, chemical reactions for manufacturing/fabricating goods & raw materials (like for iron, steel, and cement production), and gas leaks from processes and equipment. Although, most direct emissions come from the consumption of fossil fuels for energy]
[Indirect emissions occur off-site, and are related to a facility’s indirect energy use at power plants for the electricity they use on-site. And, the …] industrial sector makes up about one quarter of total U.S. electricity sales.
From c2es.org, for methane specifically:
‘Oil and gas production is the United States’ largest manmade source of methane, the second biggest driver of climate change’
China is the largest annual emitting country in the world right now, and in China specifically, most of China’s energy and coal use came from the industrial sector
67.9 percent of the country’s energy use and 54.2 percent of its coal use is due to manufacturing, agriculture, and construction.
In the industrial sector in China, six industries – electricity generation, steel, non-ferrous metals, construction materials, oil processing and chemicals – account for nearly 70% of energy use.
Construction-related activities are among the main sources of carbon dioxide emissions in China – particularly the production of cement and steel
Potential Solutions To Emissions In Industry
The potential solutions below come from our own knowledge, but also paraphrased and summarised information from various reports from epa.gov, thebalancesmb.com, and c2es.org:
– Consider better energy efficiency
At manufacturing plants, and in factories for example
This could include a range of things such as more energy efficient machinery/equipment and technology, and also industrial processes.
But, it could also include more efficient heating, lighting, and electricity to run the plants and factories themselves.
– Consider using cleaner energy for industrial activities
Industrial activity requires electricity for power
Using cleaner energy (like renewables or nuclear over fossil fuels for example, or even natural gas over coal) might help lower emissions
Some energy might come from off-site, but some might be from on-site renewable energy setups too.
Combined heat and power may in some instances be more efficient and help reduce emissions in industry too
– Consider the carbon footprint of different materials used in industrial processes
For example, some recycled or re-used materials might use less energy and produce less emissions than some raw materials/virgin materials, or alternative materials.
Read more about the carbon footprint of some different materials in this guide
– Consider training for companies and workers
Training for workers on steps, practices, and processes to reduce emissions across different industrial processes
Additionally, specifically having handling policies and procedures for ‘F gases’ that reduce occurrences of accidental releases and leaks from containers and equipment
– Consider the utility of carbon footprinting
Measuring and tracking the carbon footprint of different industrial processes, and materials sourced up the supply chain
– Consider government tools that impact industry
Such as setting incentives or penalties for suppliers or companies that stay within or exceed carbon emission levels (emissions standards)
Carbon capping for businesses is a another potential tool
Although, these tools might come with their own tradeoffs to consider too. So, a careful approach might be exercised
– Consider the role of carbon capture and storage
From c2es.org: ‘Many industrial processes have no existing low-emission alternative and will require carbon capture and storage to reduce emissions over the long term.’
– Consider strategies specifically for oil and gas production
To reduce methane emissions … operators of new oil and gas wells [should] find and repair leaks; capture natural gas from the completion of hydraulically fractured oil and gas wells; and limit emissions from new and modified pneumatic pumps, and from several types of equipment used at natural gas transmission compressor stations, including compressors and pneumatic controllers …
How To Address Emissions In The Residential & Commercial Sectors
Main Causes Of Emissions In Residential & Commercial
– In General
Emissions in residential and commercial come from off-site sources, and also on-site sources
Off-site sources are the combustion of fossil fuels and other energy sources at power plants for electricity used in buildings and homes
Off-site might also include methane emissions at landfills (of organic material for example)
On-site sources come from the energy used for residential and commercial activities in buildings and homes such as the use of natural gas for heating and cooking, as well as gas emissions for things like refrigeration
weforum.org indicates that: ‘[Landfills] produce 20% of the global anthropogenic methane emission and are the second highest producers of greenhouse gas’
– In The US
Emissions from natural gas consumption represent about 78 percent of the direct fossil fuel CO2 emissions from the residential and commercial sectors
Coal consumption is a minor component of energy use …
Potential Solutions To Emissions In Residential & Commercial
The potential solutions below come from our own knowledge, but also paraphrased and summarised information from various reports from epa.gov, ourworldindata.org, and weforum.org:
– Consider using cleaner off-site energy sources
Buildings and homes use electricity (that is generated off-site)
Using cleaner energy sources to generate this electricity may help with reducing emissions
– Consider how to save energy or use energy more efficiently in buildings and homes
In new builds, but also when retrofitting or modifying existing builds
There’s ultimately many ways to potentially save energy, or use it more efficiently
The first key way might be via more sustainable construction – which might involve more sustainable layouts, designs (like designs for passive heating and cooling), and the use of more sustainable materials (like insulation)
The second key way might be via using energy efficient systems, devices, appliances, and fittings in the building or house. Sustainable heating and sustainable cooling, appliances that have a good energy rating (such as refrigerator/freezers, electronics, and so on), and energy efficient light bulbs, might all be examples.
The third key way might be via more sustainable practices by building and home occupants. Examples might be using timers, setting systems and appliances to energy efficient modes, and so on
– Consider reducing organic waste sent to landfill, and/or capture methane at landfills
Organic waste that ends up in landfills can emit methane as it breaks down
Reducing organic waste sent to landfills might be one way to address this (by diverting it elsewhere), whilst another might be increased use of methane capture and use programs at landfills
– Consider addressing emissions from refrigeration
May involve reducing refrigeration equipment leaks, or, using refrigerants with a lower global warming potential
New modern refrigeration technology may also be able to help food retailers reduce both refrigerant charges and refrigerant emissions.
– Consider the potential emissions footprint in pet food
weforum.org indicates that ‘Dogs and cats currently consume one quarter of the meat that is produced in the U.S.’
Apart from considering the total number of pets in a specific country, substituting the protein source in pet food, to a potential protein source like insect protein, may be one potential way to reduce emissions from pet food.
– Consider energy efficiency of off-site water and wastewater plants
Drinking water and wastewater systems account for approximately 3 percent to 4 percent of energy use in the United States [… and] Studies estimate potential savings of 15 percent to 30 percent that are “readily achievable” in water and wastewater plants
– Consider what the most cost effective residential and commercial solutions might be
ourworldindata.org has information on emission mitigation costs for the commercial and residential sector, and how cost effective each solution might be when looking at the return on the money spent
Building efficiency in new builds might be one of the most effective abatement options
Comparatively, some retrofitting options may not have a significant abatement impact – although, some are quite cost effective.
How To Address Emissions In Agriculture, Forestry, & Other Land Use (AFOLU)
What Are Agriculture, Forestry, & Other Land Uses?
Agriculture includes agricultural activities and practices – on farms, ranches, and so on
Forestry includes managed forests, and areas with higher tree density
Other land uses includes the management of land area – either for their current use, or their conversion to another land use (like the conversion of forests to agricultural land)
Grouping Agriculture, Forestry, & Other Land Use Together
Agriculture is one form of land use (amongst the other types of uses land can be used for)
And, forests (which can act as a carbon sink) can be cleared and converted to farms and ranches (forms of agriculture)
These three things can be grouped together when it comes to analysing emissions
Emissions Breakdown Between Agriculture, Forestry, & Land Use Emissions
One breakdown of total global greenhouse gases from AFOLU indicates that Land Use leads at 5.54 million CO2e, Agriculture is second at 5.08 million CO2e, and Forestry is third at 1.18 million CO2e
From epa.gov, in 2014:
Of the 24% of [all] global greenhouse gas emissions [from all sectors] that [Agriculture, Forestry & Land Use was responsible for … ] emissions from this sector [came] mostly from agriculture (cultivation of crops and livestock) and deforestation [but]… ecosystems remove [CO2] from the atmosphere by sequestering carbon in biomass, dead organic matter, and soils, which [offsets] approximately 20% of emissions from this sector.
So, land areas containing plants, trees, vegetation, soils and organic matter can act as a carbon sink that absorbs CO2 from the atmosphere.
Main Causes Of Emissions In AFOLU
Agriculture is mainly an emitter, whilst the act of deforestation removes carbon sinks by clearing forests, trees, and vegetation, and also changing the surface of the Earth to impact how heat is absorbed or reflected
Forests and vegetation are usually a net carbon sink, storing carbon in plant biomass, but also below ground in soil.
Vegetation is also capable of emitting gases and VOCs though.
Some of the main gases emitted in agriculture are nitrous oxide, which comes from mainly synthetic fertilizer; and methane, which comes principally from rice and livestock (depending on the country in question, and what their main agricultural practices and products are)
The main causes of emissions in agriculture might vary depending on the country
In the US …
epa.gov mentions that (paraphrased):
[In addition to coming from livestock, emissions from agriculture come from the management of agricultural soils via fertilizer, and rice production]
[Specifically …] nitrous oxide can come from synthetic fertilizers, methane can come from the normal digestive processes of livestock, nitrous oxide and methane can come from manure management, and some CO2 can come from other farming activities
[By % …] Management of agricultural soils (fertilizer etc.) accounts for over half of the total emissions [in agriculture,] … [methane from livestock] represents almost one third of the emissions … [and] manure management accounts for about 15 percent of [emissions]
In China …
In Australia …
The largest portion of greenhouse gas emissions in agriculture usually comes from livestock and their digestive systems – burping, farting, manure, urine etc (agric.wa.gov.au)
In General …
… non-carbon dioxide gases direct emissions in agriculture [are] nitrous oxide, which comes from fertilizer; and methane, which comes principally from rice and livestock (theconversation.com)
[Globally] Deforestation is the second largest anthropogenic source of carbon dioxide to the atmosphere, after fossil fuel combustion [… and] Deforestation and forest degradation contribute to atmospheric greenhouse gas emissions through combustion of forest biomass and decomposition of remaining plant material and soil carbon.
Potential Solutions To Emissions In AFOLU
The potential solutions below come from our own knowledge, but also paraphrased and summarised information from various reports from epa.gov, agric.wa.gov.au, and theconversation.com:
– Consider improving the overall productivity, yield, and efficiency of agriculture
Greater efficiency, yield, and productivity in agriculture may lead to more efficient use of energy and resources
– Consider focussing on the main agricultural products
Such as livestock, and crops (particularly rice and other crops that are large emitters)
– Consider how technical agronomic practices can impact emissions
– Consider how agricultural fertilizer impacts emissions
For example, the type and amount of fertiliser used can impact emissions. Some organic fertilisers may emit less emissions than some synthetic ones.
Selecting crops that need less of certain types of fertilizer may also help
From ourworld.unu.edu, in terms of fertilizer use:
… one tonne of inefficiently-made and excessively-used fertiliser can create emissions twelve times in size (12.3 CO2e tonnes).
– Consider how water conditions may play a role in emissions specific crops
Like for example considering how waterlogged rice crops may create anaerobic conditions, that lead to emissions
Draining water more effectively may help in this instance, as well as alternate wetting and drying in irrigated rice
Growing less water intensive crops may also help
– Consider how livestock management plays a role in emissions
There’s a range of livestock management practices that might help reduce emissions
The total number of livestock farmed is a key one
The type of livestock is another – some large livestock may emit more than smaller animals
Another is the efficiency and productivity of livestock farming – more productive livestock farming practices and methods/systems can help
Another is livestock breeding and husbandry (with strategic breeding). Breeding livestock specifically for less methane might be an option.
Another is biological control (by considering animal health), and even genetic engineering to alter body bacteria that might impact emissions
Another is the type and quality of feed fed to livestock – some reports indicate that a large % of emissions from agriculture comes from feed production for livestock. Higher quality pastures, and feeds with greater nutritional quality and greater digestibility might help. Modifying feed variables, or other types of farming, such as insect farming, may be potential solutions to reduce emissions from animal feed.
Another is the management of livestock manure – changing management practices to handle manure as a solid waste, re-using manure as a fertilizer, or, capturing gas from manure and using it for energy. These things may help with nitrous oxide and methane emissions.
– Consider better overall soil management
Specifically management when it comes to fertilizer application, water application and drainage, and so on
[Emissions come from] soil management – mainly the nitrogen lifecycle from anaerobic or water logged soil with higher nitrogen fertilizer application rates (agriculture.vic.gov.au).
– Consider making solutions easier for farmers and agricultural producers to implement
With better financing, awareness of and training for new technology and practices, and so on
– Consider reducing the demand burden put on agricultural producers
Some of this may come down to consumer choices in regards to food diets, and also reducing food loss and waste up and down the supply chain
– Consider how the type of land use impacts emissions
Land can be used for land uses that involve carbon storage or sequestration
Or, where land is currently storing carbon or sequestering carbon (i.e. acting as a carbon sink,), there can be a priority put on not clearing and converting land for other land uses, or degrading it
This might especially be the case for existing forests (especially tropical rainforests and biodiverse forest areas), where a priority might be put on reducing deforestation
– Consider how the management of land can impact emissions
This may involve sustainable farming practices that prioritises soil/land health, or specific types of farming, such as regenerative agriculture that preserve soil and land better
It may also involve reducing land degradation, engaging in land restoration and re-greening, planting trees, increasing rates of reforestation and afforestation, sustainable forest management, and other practices that restore land and soil health, or increase carbon sinks – particularly after human disturbance or degradation
– Consider abatement costs and potential savings for different actions across agriculture, land use and forestry
ourworldindata.org has more information on potential costs and savings for actions like reforestation, afforestation, soil restoration, cropland nutrient management, rice management, and so on
Common Factors That May Impact Emissions In Most, Or All Sectors & Industries
Examples of common factors that may impact emissions in most, or all sectors and industries might be:
Meta factors like population growth, economic growth, and level of industrialization
These meta factors may lead to an increase in demand for electricity, transport, good and services, agricultural products and food, and so on
This increased demand may lead to an increase in overall emissions
Different Emissions Reduction Targets For Each Sector
Each sector might have different emissions targets by a specific year in the future.
For example, theconversation.com outlines how (paraphrased) AFOLU might have a certain annual emissions reduction target to achieve below 2 degrees pre-industrial levels warming by a certain year in the future (such as by 2050, or 2100)
They mention how there might be different targets for all three of carbon dioxide, methane, and nitrous oxide in each sector
Different Emissions Strategies For Different Geographic Locations Around The World
This guide contains generalized information only.
Ultimately, each individual country or city will have to take into account the factors and variables impacting their own sectors and industries, as well as assess the % share that the different industries and sectors make up of all emissions in the country.
Each country or city will have to have their own strategy to address these emissions, and perhaps focus on the industries and sectors that comprise the largest % of emissions within their country or city.
Examples Of How Countries May Implement Solutions Across The Various Sectors To Achieve Future Emissions Targets
theconversation.com provides an example of how Australia can achieve zero net emissions by 2050 and live within its recommended carbon budget, using technologies that exist today, while still growing the economy … with 4 pillars of action across key sectors, such as electricity generation, transport, residential and commercial, industry, and AFOLU:
Ambitious energy efficiency in buildings, industry and transport
Low carbon electricity, either through 100% renewables or a mix of renewables and other technologies
Electrification where possible of transport and energy-using equipment in buildings and industry where possible, and elsewhere switching to low carbon fuels
Reducing non-energy emissions through improvements in industrial processes and agricultural practices, and offsetting residual emissions through carbon forestry.
This may be one of many potential examples provided by various reports.
1. Various ‘Better Meets Reality’ guides
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