Quorso For Good: identifying the world’s biggest opportunities right now to reduce global carbon emissions

A movement on an unprecedented global scale is calling on governments to increase action

Millions of protestors rallied last Friday at the Global Climate Strike, demanding action ahead of today’s UN Climate Action Summit.

At Quorso, rather than joining those on the streets, we decided to take action ourselves and put our performance improvement platform to work, analysing the carbon emissions data of 200 countries to find intelligent opportunities to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

Quorso found big opportunities for emissions reductions in 161 countries —huge ones in some! Addressing these could reduce global emissions by 52%. Could this help illuminate a path to net-zero by 2030?

Where we are on global climate goals

Under the 2015 Paris Agreement, countries agreed to limit warming to as close to 1.5°C as possible, and are gradually committing to reaching net-zero before 2050.

But we are already at 1°C of warming and, with a heightened awareness of the impact on ecosystem degradation and galvanised by movements like #Fridays4Future and Extinction Rebellion, the public are demanding that their governments ramp up ambition and action, aiming for net-zero by 2030 or even 2025.

Annual global emissions in 2017 were 36.2 GtCO₂, and are estimated by Global Carbon Project to have gone up another 2% to 37.1 GtCO₂ in 2018.

So, to reach net-zero by 2030, we would need to reduce annual global emissions by about 3 Gt each year. That’s the scale of the challenge we must step up to.

This raises a few important questions

  1. Is it even achievable?
  2. Where is action (money, time and energy) best focused?
  3. Which actions (e.g. policies, investments, coalitions, movements) are proving most effective, so we can scale them up?

Quorso is all about making big challenges like this actionable. Our software is used by companies to help identify and act on the best opportunities to improve their business performance, measuring impact and scaling best practice as they go.

I wondered, could we use the same approach to break down the climate crisis and help identify the most actionable opportunities to reduce emissions, by country and sector?

And could those insights help us chart a course towards rapidly reducing global emissions by 3 Gt per year?


What we did

For phase one we ingested CO₂ emissions data by country and sector from 1970–2017. The data came from the EDGAR dataset, produced by the European Commission, Joint Research Centre (EC-JRC) and Netherlands Environmental Assessment Agency (PBL), and curated by Open Climate Data.

Quorso then automatically ran a granular variance analysis to identify the biggest opportunities to reduce emissions in each of the 208 countries.

Countries were analysed in three comparable clusters, according to grouping used by the UNFCCC:

  • 40 Annex I countries (OECD industrialised countries and economies in transition)
  • 123 non-Annex I countries (developing countries)
  • 45 LDCs (least developed countries)

The chart below shows a long-term reduction trend in Buildings emissions in the UK. From 2014 onwards though, most countries’ emissions started to rise, but in the UK they continued to fall considerably. If the UK can continue this trajectory, and bring its Buildings emissions in line with the median per-capita for these countries, (where the yellow quartile meets the green quartile), it would reduce annual emissions by 18.5Mt.

Chart: the UK's annual carbon dioxide emissions in the Buildings sector. These have fallen from 105 Megatons per year in 2005 to 76.7 Megatons per year in 2017. They are 18.5 Megatons higher than comparable countries, which is the opportunity to improve.
2017 UK CO₂ emissions, the Buildings sector. Sources: Quorso, EDGAR data

So, what do we see when we look for opportunities like this across all 208 countries?


What we found

1 – Is it even achievable?

The total aggregate opportunity we found across all 208 countries represents a potential reduction in annual CO₂ emissions of 17.8 Gt.

That means that if every country that is emitting more than average in any sector reduces its emissions to match the average per-capita performance of similar countries, global emissions would be reduced by 52%.

So, yes, current data indicate that a reduction of 3 Gt per year is well within the realms of possibility. There is hope!

2 – Where is action best focused?

It looks like there are huge opportunities globally to reduce emissions across all of these sectors, especially in Power and Industrial Combustion:

Table showing opportunities in Buildings (1.3Gt), Power (7.2Gt), Transport (1.9Gt), Other industrial combustion (4.9Gt) and Other sectors (2.6Gt)
Total opportunity to reduce annual CO₂ emissions globally, by sector. Sources: Quorso, EDGAR data

That’s only the start of the story though. Here are the Quorso Opportunities by region:

The largest amount of opportunity is in Asia (9.7Gt), North America (3.6Gt), Europe (1.7Gt) and Middle East (1.6Gt)
Total opportunity to reduce annual CO₂ emissions globally, by region. Sources: Quorso, EDGAR data

And Quorso can keep drilling down – here are the top opportunities in Europe:

Some of the biggest European opportunities are Power industry in Russia, Germany and Poland
Biggest 12 opportunities to reduce annual CO₂ emissions in Europe. Sources: Quorso, EDGAR data

We feel this method of analysing and surfacing carbon emissions data could help authorities determine where to focus attention and how to prioritise action. Let us know if you’re interested in exploring this data for yourself!

3 – Which actions are proving most effective, so we can scale them up?

Quorso can also ingest information about the climate policies, programmes, investments and initiatives that countries have enacted, and start to identify what works and what doesn’t.

For example, here is the impact on UK emissions since it passed the 2008 Climate Act:

UK achieved modest reductions of 3.8 Megatons from 2008–2012, while 2013–2017 had 61.7 Megatons in annual emissions
Impact of UK climate policy on annual CO₂ emissions. Sources: Quorso, EDGAR data

UK emissions fell from 526 Mt to 379 Mt between 2008 and 2017, an absolute reduction of 157 Mt in annual CO₂ emissions. Clearly it took a few years to ramp up, but then it started having a real impact.

The above improvement numbers, if you sum them up, show us that 65 Mt of those emission reductions were above and beyond what the rest of the Annex I countries achieved.

Could structuring carbon emissions data like this help us identify and spread best practices?


What’s next?

This is just the tip of the iceberg (no pun intended). As we start drilling down into the rest of the data countries have submitted to the UNFCCC, we will surface much more granular opportunities.

We’d love more people to get involved!

Whether you’re a climate expert, policy writer, NGO worker, student, sustainability champion or data geek – we would love to invite you to log in and explore the data with us, critique it, and work together to turn this into something that truly helps drive action.

The upcoming months and years ahead are critical for accelerating climate change action in a data-driven and intelligent way. At Quorso we are determined to use our technology for good and help make this happen.

Get in touch via email or tweet @dancunningham if you would like to help us!

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