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Low-carbon economy

A low-carbon economy is an economy in which the growth of carbon dioxide emissions from the use of carbon based fuels (coal, oil and gas) is halted and then significantly reduced.[1]. The full reduction (phase-out) appears later only in the zero-carbon (also called post carbon) economy, where any carbon emissions are not allowed.

Low-carbon economy is related with low-carbon society.

Such a low-carbon economy is reached by many states and proposed by organizations as a necessity in order to mitigate the effects of global warming. It might also be hastened by future shortages of oil (Hubbert peak theory) and the associated increases in energy prices that are predicted to come,[2] coupled with anticipated increases in energy demand as countries such as China and India continue their industrialization and coalization.[3] [4]

A low-carbon economy might be brought about through the use of energy efficiency measures (a key feature in the Vienna Climate Change Talks 2007 was a United Nations report that showed how energy efficiency could yield significant cuts in emissions at low cost) and the substitution of renewable energy sources for fossil fuels and nuclear power (Note: nuclear power does not emit any greenhouse gases. [1], [2], [3]), including transport electrification. Also proposed - as a method for mitigating global warming - is a direct quota on global fossil fuel production.[5]

Whilst many in the traditional "environmentalist" movement are skeptical of the use of nuclear power, citing concerns over issues such as the long-term disposal of radioactive waste, the majority of scientific opinion is that the use of nuclear energy is one important option which must be kept on the table, given its large potential to displace highly greenhouse-gas intensive fossil fuel based energy generation systems, given the potential for grave consequences as a result of anthropogenic forcing of climate change. France and Sweden, for example, whose electricity generation is 78% and 48% from nuclear energy respectively, and have some of the lowest per-capita greenhouse gas emissions in the developed world, provide evidence for the effectiveness of this approach to displacing the use of carbon dioxide-intensive fuels. Sweden and France have been able to eliminate the use of fossil fuels almost entirely, through the use of nuclear energy and renewable energy systems, such as hydroelectricity. In recent years, several prominent environmentalists, including James Lovelock, Tim Flannery and Stewart Brand have spoken out in support of the use of nuclear energy, given the grave concerns over the potential damage of anthropogenic forcing of climate change.

In 2004, France stopped mining coal, because nuclear power now provides 80% of its electricity. [4] A single coal power plant in the U.S. emits more air pollution, more carbon dioxide, more NOx, more sulfur dioxide, and more particulates, than all 59 of France's nuclear reactors combined. [5] Nuclear power gives France the cleanest air of any industrialized country, and the cheapest electricity in all of Europe. [6]

New technologies such as hydrogen power and carbon capture and storage may also be involved, in the long-term future, although hydrogen is not an energy source in and of itself, merely an energy storage medium, and must be generated from water using some source of energy.

In the European Union and other territories the right to emit carbon dioxide is included in carbon emissions trading schemes,[6]. Also it can be subject to carbon taxes.[7]

A low-carbon economy may be judged to be more economically efficient (cost-effective) than high-carbon economy, because of the higher energy efficiency of low carbon energies, existing technological improvements, increases in the costs of carbon fuels, and the introduction of carbon trading or carbon taxes.


Primary Sector


Foodstuffs should be produced as close as possible to the final consumers (preferably within walking/cycling distance). This will reduce the amount of carbon-based energy necessary to transport the foodstuffs. Consumers can also buy fresh food rather than processed food, since carbon-based energy might be used to process the food. Cooking presents another opportunity to conserve energy. Energy could be saved if farmers produced more foods that people would eat raw.

Also, most of the agricultural facilities in the developed world are mechanized due to rural electrification. Rural electrification has produced significant productivity gains, but it also uses a lot of energy. For this and other reasons (such as transport costs) in the low-carbon, rural areas will rely heavily on locally and renewably produced electricity.

Irrigation can be one of the main components of an agricultural facility's energy consumption. In parts of California it can be up to 90%. [8] In the low carbon economy, irrigation equipment will be maintained and continually updated and farms will use less irrigation water.


Different crops require different amounts of energy input. For example, glasshouse crops, irrigated crops, and orchards require a lot of energy to maintain, while row crops and field crops don’t need as much maintenance. Those glasshouse and irrigated crops that do exist will incorporate the following improvements: [9]

Glasshouse crops

  • environmental control systems
  • heat recovery using condensers
  • heat storage using buffer tanks
  • heat retention using thermal screens
  • alternative fuels (e.g. waste wood)
  • cogeneration (heat and power)

Irrigated arable crops

  • soil moisture measurement to regulate irrigation
  • variable speed drives on pumps


Livestock operations can also use a lot of energy depending on how they are run. Feed lots use animal feed made from corn, soybeans, and other crops. Energy must be expended to produce these crops, process and transport them. Free-range animals find their own vegetation to feed on. The farmer may expend energy to take care of that vegetation, but not nearly as much as the farmer who grows cereal and oil-seed crops.

Many livestock operations currently use a lot of energy to water their livestock. In the low-carbon economy, such operations will use more water conservation methods such as rainwater collection, water cisterns, etc and they will also pump/distribute that water with on-site renewable energy sources (most likely wind and solar).

Due to rural electrification, most agricultural facilities in the developed world use a lot of electricity. In a low-carbon economy, farms will be run and equipped to allow for greater energy efficiency. The dairy industry, for example, will incorporate the following changes: [10]

Irrigated Dairy

  • heat recovery on milk vats
  • variable speed drives on motors/pumps
  • heat recovery from hot water wash
  • soil moisture measurement to regulate irrigation
  • biodigester with cogen (heat & power)
  • vat wrap
  • solar water heating
  • ripple control
  • ice bank
  • chemical substitute for hot water wash

Hunting and Fishing

Fishing is quite energy intensive. Improvements such as heat recovery on refrigeration and trawl net technology will be common in the low-carbon economy. [11]


In the low-carbon economy, forestry operations will be focused on low-impact practices and regrowth. Forest managers will make sure that they do not disturb soil based carbon reserves, too much. Specialized tree farms will be the main source of material for many products. Quick maturing tree varieties will be grown on short rotations in order to maximize output. [12]


Main article: Gas flare

Flaring and venting of natural gas in oil wells is a significant source of greenhouse gas emissions. Its contribution to greenhouse gases has declined by three-quarters in absolute terms since a peak in the 1970s of approximately 110 million metric tons/year and now accounts for about 1/2 of one percent of all anthropogenic carbon dioxide emissions.[13] The World Bank estimates that 100 billion cubic meters of natural gas are flared or vented annually, an amount equivalent to the combined annual gas consumption of Germany and France, twice the annual gas consumption of Africa, three quarters of Russian gas exports, or enough to supply the entire world with gas for 20 days. This flaring is highly concentrated: 10 countries account for 75% of emissions, and twenty for 90%.[14] The largest flaring operations occur in the Niger Delta region of Nigeria. The leading contributors to gas flaring are (in declining order): Nigeria, Russia, Iran, Algeria, Mexico, Venezuela, Indonesia, and the United States.[15]

Secondary Sector

Basic metals Processing

  • high efficiency electric motors
  • induction furnaces
  • heat recovery

Nonmetallic product Processing

  • variable speed drives
  • injection molding - replace hydraulic with electric servo motors

Wood Processing

  • high efficiency motors
  • high efficiency fans
  • dehumidifier driers

Paper and Pulp Making

  • variable speed drives
  • high efficiency motors

Food Processing

  • high efficiency boilers
  • heat recovery e.g. refrigeration
  • solar hot water for pre-heating
  • bio fuels e.g. tallow, wood

Tertiary Sector


Retail operations in the low-carbon economy will have several new features. One will be high efficiency lighting such as compact fluorescent, halogen, and eventually LED light sources. Many retail stores will also feature roof-top solar panel arrays. These make sense because solar panels produce the most energy during the daytime and during the summer. These are the same times that electricity is the most expensive and also the same times that stores use the most electricity. [16]

Transportation Services

  • More energy efficiency and alternative propulsion:
    • Increased focus on fuel efficient vehicle shapes and configurations, with more vehicle hybridization, particularly through plug-in hybrids.
    • More alternative and flex-fuel vehicles (based on local conditions and availability)
    • Driver training for more fuel efficiency.
    • Low carbon-biofuels cellulosic (biodiesel, bioethanol, biobutanol )
    • Petroleum fuel surcharges will be a more significant part of consumer costs.
  • Less international trade of physical objects, despite more overall trade (as measure by value of goods)
  • Greater use of marine and electric rail transport, less use of air and truck transport.
  • More pipeline capacity for common fluid commodities such as water, ethanol, butanol, natural gas, petroleum, and hydrogen (in addition to gasoline and diesel).

See [17][18][19]

Initial steps

Internationally, the most prominent early step in the direction of a low-carbon economy was the signing of the Kyoto Protocol, which came into force on February 16, 2005, under which most industrialized countries committed to reduce their carbon emissions.[20][21] Importantly, all member nations of the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development except the United States have ratified the protocol.


Although the Australian Government has been reluctant to implement any emission reduction targets or regulations, the market has seen the voluntary development of carbon neutral businesses. Many Australian carbon offset companies offer carbon neutrality of businesses based on life cycle impact assessments of varying detail. One offset provider,the Carbon Reduction Institute, has produced a Low Carbon Directory, to promote a low carbon economy in Australia. As recent as December 2007, the Australian prime minister Kevin Rudd has signed the Kyoto protocol, the first document he signed as prime minister of Australia.



Main article: Renewable energy in Iceland

By exploiting geothermal energy and hydropower, renewable energy in Iceland provides over 70% of the nation's primary energy needs since 1999, and 99.9% of Iceland's electricity.[22] As a result Iceland's carbon emissions per capita are 62% lower than those of the United States[23] despite using more primary energy per capita.[24] Iceland expects to use 100% renewable energy by 2050 by generating hydrogen fuel from renewable energy sources.

United Kingdom

In the United Kingdom, a draft Climate Change Bill outlining a framework for the transition to a low-carbon economy was published on March 13 2007. This legislation would require a 60% cut in the UK's carbon emissions by 2050 (compared to 1990 levels), with an intermediate target of between 26% and 32% by 2020.[25] If approved, the UK would likely become the first country to set such a long-range and significant carbon reduction target into law.[26]


Companies are planning large scale developments without using fossil fuels. Development plans such as those by World Wide Assets LLC for entire cities using only geothermal energy for electricity, geothermal desalination, and employing full recycling systems for water and waste are under development (2006) in Mexico and Australia.

In China, the city of Dongtan is to be built to be produce zero net greenhouse gas emissions.[27]

Zero-carbon economy

Main article: Post carbon

A zero-carbon (also called non-carbon or post-carbon) economy is a step beyond a low-carbon economy. This may include the complete elimation of the use of fossil fuels and be based on renewable alternative energy sources.

As of 2007, Iceland and Sweden, with their petroleum phase-outs, are making big progresses in this direction, with a lot of organizations in the rest of countries, promoting also zero-carbon.


The University of East Anglia has a Strategic Carbon Management MBA.

See also

Economics Portal
Energy Portal
Sustainable development Portal


  1. ^ The Low Carbon Economy, The Carbon Trust, published: 2006, accessed 2007-03-27.
  2. ^
  3. ^ "China to maintain 'rapid growth'", BBC News, 29 November 2005. 
  4. ^ "Sharp rise in India's growth rate", BBC News, 30 November 2005. 
  5. ^ Climate Control: a proposal for controlling global greenhouse gas emissions (PDF). Sustento Institute. Retrieved on 2007-12-10.
  6. ^ Agents of Change: Preparing for a World Where Carbon Has a Price, British Petroleum, published 2006-06-08, accessed 2007-03-27.
  7. ^ Robert Watts. "Business to fight green taxes",, 29 Oct 2006. 
  8. ^ Flex Your Power
  9. ^ New Zealand Energy Intensive Business Initiative,
  10. ^ New Zealand Energy Intensive Business Initiative,
  11. ^ New Zealand Energy Intensive Business Initiative,
  12. ^
  13. ^ Global, Regional, and National CO2 Emissions. In Trends: A Compendium of Data on Global Change, Marland, G., T.A. Boden, and R. J. Andres, 2005, Carbon Dioxide Information Analysis Center, Oak Ridge National Laboratory, U.S. Department of Energy, Oak Ridge, Tennessee.
  14. ^ The World Bank, Global Gas Flaring Reduction"
  15. ^ The Climate Law Organization, Friends of the Earth International.
  16. ^
  17. ^ Energy Information Administration Industry Analysis Briefs,
  18. ^ The Carbon Trust – a UK government funded company,,
  19. ^
  20. ^
  21. ^ Margot Wallström. "Towards a low carbon economy" Brussels (11 March 2004). Retrieved on ~~~
  22. ^ Gross energy consumption by source 1987–2005, Statistics Iceland, accessed 2007-05-14
  23. ^ United Nations Millenium Development Goals Indicators, United Nations, accessed 2006-08-02.
  24. ^ Energy in Iceland Icelandic Ministries of Industry and Commerce, accessed 2007-05-14
  25. ^ New Bill and strategy lay foundations for tackling climate change. Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (2007-03-13). Retrieved on 2007-03-13.
  26. ^ Britain proposes climate change bill. Baltimore Sun (2007-03-14). Retrieved on 2007-03-14.
  27. ^ Arup unveils plans for world’s first sustainable city in Dongtan, China. Arup (2005-08-24). Retrieved on 2007-04-26.
This article is licensed under the GNU Free Documentation License. It uses material from the Wikipedia article "Low-carbon_economy". A list of authors is available in Wikipedia.
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