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The Countries Leading the Way in Decarbonization

As the world heads towards achieving net zero, what countries are at the forefront of leading effective decarbonization efforts?

The world leaders of decarbonization

For many of us, heating homes, offices and other buildings is essential to our comfort, health, and ability to function. However, there is a high environmental cost to pay for our use of fossil fuels. Coal-fired electricity and heat generation caused the biggest sectoral increase in global greenhouse gas emissions in 2022, so it is no surprise that countries around the world are searching for ways to decarbonize heating in the race to reach net zero.

There may not be a single way to reduce our carbon output, but examples of good practice can demonstrate a path forward to a cleaner future and show us how to accelerate our progress towards a sustainable world. In this article, we explore the countries who are at the forefront of paving the way towards a greener future, and the initiatives they are taking to achieve it.

Denmark’s landmark landfill ban

Denmark is seen to be one of the leading countries in the efforts of world decarbonization. Their goal is to cut greenhouse gas emissions by 70% (from 1990 levels) by 2030.

Part of Denmark's success is down to its ban on landfills, which has incentivized large-scale incineration. The power and heat generated by large furnaces is fed to district heating plants which provide warmth and hot water to multiple buildings.

Costa Rica and Ethiopia harness hydro

Costa Rica and Ethiopia rely almost entirely on clean energy sources for their electricity. Hydro has made up the greatest contribution to their clean electricity portfolio for over 30 years.

Both countries, along with others, had been harnessing hydro power even before reducing carbon emissions became a worldwide priority. With the introduction of net zero commitments, they have further invested in additional capacity to meet the rising demand.

Finland invests in geothermal heat pumps

Finland is firmly committed to achieving net zero by 2035, positioning itself as one of the most ambitious nations in climate commitments. Demonstrating its potential, the country has steadily reduced its reliance on oil and gas since 2010 and showcased the effectiveness of heat pumps in converting energy from external sources like air, water, and geothermal energy.

Founded in 1999, with support from the government's energy efficiency agency, Motiva, the Finnish Heat Pump Association (SUPLU) emerged to promote clean heating technology adoption in Finnish households.

Although progress was initially sluggish due to challenges like inadequate training, quality standards, and maintenance capacity, significant improvements came about by 2009, leading to Finland's acceptance into the European Heat Pump Association's quality control committee.

As a result, sales of heat pumps surged. Presently, Finland's heat pumps generate approximately 10TWh of energy, satisfying around 15% of the country's residential and commercial heating demands.

Japan’s hydro example spreads globally

In 2017, Japan led the way by becoming the world's first country to devise a comprehensive hydrogen strategy. It aims to cut emissions by 46 per cent by 2030 and achieve carbon neutrality by 2050.

Today, pioneering cities like Kobe are harnessing this technology to generate heat and electricity for sports centres, trains, and hospitals.

Paving the way for a greener future

In line with these countries, the UK is actively pursuing the expansion of low-carbon heating networks with a clear focus on fostering safe and sustainable market growth. Moreover, the UK is making significant strides in ramping up hydrogen production from its current low level to 10GW by 2030.

Despite facing challenges in heat retention, the exploration of practical solutions, such as cavity wall insulation and double/triple glazing installation, remains a top priority, despite the associated costs.

With a vision of a low-carbon hydrogen economy, the UK projects emissions savings equivalent to the carbon captured by 700 million trees by 2032, thus significantly aiding the transition away from fossil fuels. Additionally, the UK has committed to accelerating the deployment of heat pumps to 60,000 units annually by 2028.

Encouragingly, the UK possesses various geological features that offer opportunities for harnessing geothermal energy for residential use. For instance, Cornwall boasts granite rock deposits that bring heat closer to the surface, mitigating the necessity for extensive drilling efforts.

The future is hydrogen

Hydrogen-ready products are rapidly being created to meet demand. Therefore, we have developed a fast-track standard to support the use of hydrogen in domestic heating. The standard, Hydrogen-fired Gas Appliances (PAS 4444), has made it possible for appliances to be certified before they head into trials, demonstrating they comply with Gas Appliance Regulations requirements, and receive UKCA or CE marking.