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Decarbonisation of the economy through the promotion of regenerative sectors: the case of the cork sector

The European Union has set itself the goal of being climate neutral by 2050. This means that the net emissions of Greenhouse gases (GHG) must be zero. This goal is one of the main pillars of the Green Deal European and is in line with the European commitment to join theParis Agreement of 2015 promoted by the United Nations.

What does the decarbonisation of the economy mean?

The climate emergency in which we are immersed is due, in large part, to the global warming of the Earth, which, at the same time, has been attributed mainly to anthropogenic GHG emissions. The decarbonization refers to the process of reducing the emission of GHGs into the atmosphere together with the combination of technologies to sequester these GHGs from the atmosphere to achieve a balance of zero emissions. Reaching this goal has huge implications as you can imagine and they go far beyond technological changes, as they entail a substantial change in industry, commerce, energy, finance, society,... it involves a change paradigm and economic model.

What are the sectors that generate the most Greenhouse Gases?

our world in data

It becomes clear that the problem lies mainly in the use of fossil fuels, whether in the generation of electricity, heat or transport. However, it also turns out that there are a large number of processes that contribute to global emissions, which means that there is no simple solution to tackling decarbonisation. Even if we focus on the energy sector, which almost means three quarters of emissions, the solution is not easy. If the electricity supply were to be completely decarbonised, it would still be necessary to electrify all heat generation and transport systems.

Ultimately, to reach emissions neutrality, innovations are needed across many sectors; a single solution will not get us to decarbonisation.

The promotion of regenerative and carbon-neutral sectors

Innovation in low-carbon technologies to ensure more sustainable products is essential. The vast majority of sectors are working along these lines to achieve the global decarbonisation of the economy.

The following figure shows the proportion of the global market in sustainable technologies and its comparison between 2016 and 2025 (€ billions and %). Source: GreenTech made in Germany 2018 (p. 52).


In the illustration you can see a trend in the increase in investment and activity in the search for sustainable materials, mobility, waste management and recycling.

The most efficient way to enable decarbonisation is to create the conditions for GHG-neutral sectors to develop and expand, as well as to promote the incentives and growth of regenerative sectors (which create social and environmental value) such as the cork sector. From a regional perspective, it is essential to attend to the comparative advantage of innovation in the cork sector in the Iberian Peninsula in order to focus on coordinated structural policies at European level. In other words, Catalonia should not start innovating in certain low-carbon technologies (for example batteries) when there are other countries with much more experience and knowledge.

The carbon footprint of the Catalan cork sector

Several studies (herehereherehere or here) have corroborated that the GHG emission of the Catalan cork sector is lower than its retention (fixation). This is why the Catalan cork sector is considered as one regenerative sector because its activity favors the decarbonisation of the economy. The cork sector provides a renewable material that fixes 14.6 tons of CO2 per ton of cork converted into a cork or other application.

The value that the sector brings in decarbonisation is even accounted for economically along with other environmental services in the study of calculation of the environmental services of cork in Catalonia promoted by the Institut Català del Suro Foundation (2013).

And how can we promote the use of cork?

As a consumer, the way to support the dynamism of the cork sector is by purchasing cork products: bottles covered with cork caps, using cork panels or projected cork in the insulation of the house and in the parquet, cosmetic products with cork extracts, …

As a citizen it is important to be aware of the need for sustainable management of the cork forest. Taking care of the forest does not mean leaving it to its fate, but managing it in a sustainable and responsible way. It is worth considering the reflections of Martí Boada in this sense (for example here).


Albert Hereu, Director of the Institut Català del Suro Foundation