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The phasing out of fossil fuels

Learn about the phasing out of fossil fuels and how it affects business energy. Using fossil fuels has a huge impact on global warming, what needs to change?

The fossil fuel phase out is the slow reduction over time of the use of fossil fuels, with the end game of using no fossil fuels at all. The aim is to switch over to renewable or sustainable energy sources

Why do we need to phase out fossil fuels?

The main reasons for needing to phase out fossil fuels is to reduce the effects of climate change, as well as limiting the amount of deaths and illnesses caused by pollution. Currently the Earth’ average temperature is around 15°C. It hasn’t always been this way, in the past the average temperature has been lower and higher than this, but scientists believe temperatures are rising faster now than at any time before, with much of this being caused by human activities. It would be almost impossible to expect the world to completely stop using fossil fuels instantly, but it is believed that the phasing out of fossil fuels will work in our fight against climate change before the damage becomes irreversible.

The greenhouse effect

This is the term used to describe how the Earth’s atmosphere traps some of the Sun’s energy, without this happening the Earth would be much colder and would be inhospitable to life. Our problem is that scientists believe we are adding to the natural greenhouse effect through industry, which means more of the Sun’s energy is being trapped and therefore causing the temperature to rise. 

There are many greenhouse gases, with the main ones being; 

  • Carbon Dioxide (C02)

  • Ozone

  • Methane

  • Nitrous Oxide

  • Chlorofluorocarbons

  • Water Vapour

The gas that has the greatest impact on warming is water vapour, however this only stays in the atmosphere for a few days, whereas C02 sticks around for much longer. Most of the man-made emissions that come from C02 are from burning fossil fuels, and it would take centuries for C02 levels to return to pre-industrial levels. The industrial revolution began at around the year 1750, since then C02 levels have risen by more than 30%, in fact the level of C02 in the atmosphere is higher than it has ever been in the last 800,000 years. Methane and Nitrous Oxide are also created by human activities, but they are not as copious as Carbon Dioxide. 

Types of fossil fuels


Coal is made up of mostly carbon, but it also contains other elements such as hydrogen, sulfur, oxygen and nitrogen. Coal has been known about and even used for thousands of years, but before the industrial revolution, its use was limited. The consumption of coal greatly increased after the invention of the steam engine. The use of coal peaked in 2013, however in 2017 it still supplied around a quarter of the Earth’s primary energy and is responsible for 40% of the greenhouse gas emissions from fossil fuels. 

To meet the target of keeping global warming below 2°C, coal use needs to halve from 2020 to 2030. It is estimated that to meet this target, thousands of power plants will need to be shut down. One of the issues is that some of the countries that most rely on coal continue to build new coal-fired power plants. There have been disagreements between some countries on how quickly coal should be phased out. 

Coal use has been the cause of deaths and ill health, as well as creating air and water pollution. It is estimated that globally coal is the cause of 800,000 premature deaths. As part of the coal phase out, many countries have stopped funding for new coal plants, and in 2021, G7 committed to end their support for coal powered stations within the year. 


Crude oil is a naturally occurring liquid that is found beneath the Earth’s surface and is mostly collected by drilling. Once the oil is extracted, it is refined into mostly petrol and diesel, as well as helping to make plastics and pesticides. It is estimated that 100 million barrels of petrol are used every day. 

The use of petrol has a hugely negative impact on the environment and is one of the biggest contributors to climate change. Alongside the burning of coal, burning petroleum is one of the biggest factors in climate change as it releases a great deal of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. Part of the phasing out process is the banning the sale of new petrol or diesel cars as we make a switch to electric cars. The UK’s ban on the sale of these vehicles is to start in 2030, the same goes for other countries including Sweden, India and the Netherlands. Some countries are opting to ban the sales later with France and Spain’s ban coming in 2040. 

Natural Gases

For many years our main source of energy used for generating electricity has come from burning fossil fuels. There has been a strong growth in the use of renewable energy sources, but despite this, the burning of fossil fuels has still been the dominant source of energy. In 1990 fossil fuels generated 61.9% of worldwide electricity, with this rising to 64.5% in 2017. 

Power plants create heat by burning coal or oil which is then used to make steam which is used to power turbines to generate electricity. These plants are very reliable and efficient, but burning all these fossil fuels is one of the main causes of climate change. The use of renewable energy could be the way forward. 

Renewable energy means that it is sustainable, as in something that can’t run out. You might also hear the terms ‘low-carbon energy’ or ‘zero-carbon energy’; these types of energy sources are not renewable but they do not emit any carbon. There are various types of green energy; 

Solar energy

The amount of solar energy that hits the Earth from the Sun every hour is more than our total energy requirements for a whole year. It may sound simple to harness this energy but there are factors such as the time of day, the season, and the location, that can limit how much solar energy we can use. 

Wind energy

Wind farms are becoming more popular, and wind is a great source of clean energy. The turbines are used to power generators which feed electricity into the national grid. 

Hydro energy

Hydro energy is one of the most developed sources of greener energy. A dam or a barrier is made, and a large reservoir can be used to make a controlled flow of water that will power a turbine. This type of energy can prove to be more reliable than solar and wind energy. Another form of hydro energy is tidal energy, which twice a day uses tidal currents to power turbine generators.

Geothermal energy

This uses the natural heat from below the Earth’s surface, and can be used to generate electricity or heat up homes directly.This type of energy is not freely available everywhere, it isn’t used much in the UK, but for example it's much easier to harness this energy in somewhere like Iceland where geothermal heat is much more widely available.  

Biomass energy

This is the process of converting solid fuel made from plant materials into electricity. This does involve burning organic materials but biomass energy generates power at a much lower environmental cost. 

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