The Great Decarbonisation (2020 – ?)

By Richard Howard

19th January 2020, Richard Howard, @RDHoward

History is full of change. The Renaissance, The Reformation, The Enlightenment, and The Industrial Revolution were all periods of major social, economic, political, and philosophical upheaval that changed the course of humanity forever. And at a later date, each of these key periods of historical change were given suitably grand names to match their importance.

The global response to climate change will also require an amount of upheaval and we believe it will need an equally grand name. We propose The Great Decarbonisation.

Our aim is not to write history before it is written but to lay the groundwork for a clear and hopeful narrative for the change which is to come. Some might suggest that this is premature, but by naming the task in hand we can start to build a positive message about the work required to combat climate change, whilst at the same time stressing that this change will not be easy or straight forward.

The Great Decarbonisation will most certainly be an economic event, with fundamental changes required to the bedrock of infrastructure which underpins our economy, whereas the social and political effects are yet to be fully appreciated or understood.

Fossil fuels have been embedded in our economy since the start of the Industrial Revolution. They are the main reason why the fruits of the Industrial Revolution were able to reach so many people. Easily accessible energy democratised many privileges that only the wealthy could rely upon, including on-demand warmth, security of food and water supply, and daily travel greater than walking distance. That has now morphed into even more privileges we take for granted: intercontinental commuting, next-day delivery, year-round strawberries and more.

As a consequence of their easy to access energy, fossil fuels have permeated every aspect of our lives:

  • Transportation – cars, planes, shipping
  • Materials – steel, cement
  • Domestic energy – electricity, heating

Without any one of these our modern lives would be very different and decarbonising any one of these industries would require a huge amount of economic change itself. Decarbonising all these industries whilst maintaining a similar standard of living will be on a similar level of achievement to the Industrial Revolution, and subsequently will be deserving of a suitably grand name: The Great Decarbonisation.

What are your thoughts? Any other suggestions? Tweet us @GreenFinGuide #TheGreatDecarbonisation

Note: We do not claim to have invented the term The Great Decarbonisation (or The Great Decarbonization for US readers) [1,2,3,4,5], but we believe it suitably encapsulates the challenge ahead.


  1. Cities and climate change: The great decarbonisation challenge, 2014, Lund University, [ – accessed 19/01/2020]
  2. – accessed 19/01/2020
  3. 2018-2019 Activity Report, 2019, ePure [ – accessed 19/01/2020]
  4. Financing the Transition: How Financial System Reform Can Serve Sustainable Development, 2016, UNEP, [ – accessed 19/01/2020]
  5. – accessed 19/01/2020

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