Climate science has made it clear that reducing carbon emissions alone will no longer be sufficient to reach the Paris Agreement’s climate targets. Join an ever-growing number of companies and local governments that have decided to take climate action one step further by committing to achieve Net-Zero carbon emissions by 2050 or earlier.
The Path to Net Zero
Why Net Zero? - Climate science has made it clear that the simple reduction of carbon emissions is no longer enough to stop climate change. Emissions need to fall to zero quickly to meet the targets of the Paris Agreement and it is clear that, without drastic change, this is not going to happen quickly. So long as the net emission of carbon remains above zero, carbon emission will continue to accumulate in the atmosphere. This is where Net Zero comes in as a solution to speed up the fall of emissions in the atmosphere. Net Zero is about removing as much carbon dioxide from the atmosphere as is produced.
In many industries, substantial greenhouse gas reductions can already be achieved with the technologies available today – for example by using renewable energies or switching to green power generation. Other industries, however, such as aviation and agriculture, are more limited in their opportunities to bring their emissions down to a true zero.
Net Zero is for the industries where, even after decarbonization measures are in place, there are emissions remaining. The equivalent of these remaining emissions must then be removed from the atmosphere, so as to bring the overall balance back down to zero. Net Zero can account for carbon dioxide specifically, or for all greenhouse gases, which would be measured as carbon dioxide equivalent, or CO2e.
Removing Carbon from the Atmosphere
Carbon dioxide is the only greenhouse gas that can be effectively removed from the atmosphere with the technologies available today. So-called carbon removal technologies are used for this purpose. Nature-based projects play a special role here. These make use of the potential of plants to absorb CO2 during photosynthesis and bind carbon in the biomass. Examples of carbon removal technologies based on this principle include reforestation projects and the First Climate biochar program.
It should be noted that carbon sinks, which sequester carbon emissions from fossil fuel use, do not contribute to carbon reductions because they only avoid the emission of additional CO2 and do not actively remove carbon that is already in the atmosphere.
Whether it’s technological or biogenic, the removal of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere will make a significant step in the direction of becoming net-zero. In the long run, with the development of new technologies, all economic sectors could become emissions-free and the world could even reach a state in which there are negative emissions and in which more carbon is removed than is produced.
Carbon Credits and Net Zero Targets
Whilst decarbonization and carbon removals are the priority for reaching Net Zero, it will still take a while to reach a net zero state. Those industries that are limited in existing and feasible technology to rapidly decarbonize are expected to set their net-zero goals for a later date than those which already have the means to significantly reduce their emissions. In addition to reducing avoidable emissions, supporting the binding and storage of atmospheric carbon with nature-based or technical carbon removal projects can also make an important transitional contribution to global climate action.
Our Expert Team
Actively removing carbon from the atmosphere and taking measures to decarbonize in combination with supporting climate projects with carbon credits can accompany the transition to a net-zero state. Even after a net zero state has been achieved, supporting climate action with carbon credits can still be an asset to one's sustainability strategy. This is thanks to the many additional benefits that these climate projects bring to local communities and the environment that go beyond carbon remission reductions.
These can include improved health, increased availability of renewable energy, or provision of new employment opportunities and are often measured using the United Nations 17 Sustainable Development Goals.
Not only that, but when companies continue to invest in climate projects even after reaching a net-zero state, they can then reach a net-negative state, in which they remove more emissions than they produce.
Setting a Net Zero Target
Net zero targets can be set on various levels, from corporate level to state-wide. Setting a net zero target highlights commitment to halting climate change and can contribute to social and economical development.
Whilst targets are often focused on carbon dioxide, it is possible to set targets that cover all greenhouse gas emissions recognized by the UNFCCC. For state-wide targets, some of the carbon reductions needed to meet the target will come in the form of carbon removals, particularly if the state includes emissions from their aviation and shipping industries, which currently lack the technology for affordable and efficient mitigation.
To be able to cut emissions in line with a 1.5°C scenario as set out by the IPCC, drastic changes need to be made. Renewable energy is already well developed, and its increasing integration into power grids across the globe will make significant reductions to carbon emissions. Fuel switching and efficiency measures in the transport sector are also major keys to cutting a country’s carbon footprint.
Technologies such as low carbon hydrogen could help reduce emissions from the heating sector and can stabilize renewable energy sources so that they can be better integrated into national grids. In addition to these measures, carbon removals and carbon emission reductions will also play an important role as accompanying measures in the mid-term as part of corporate net zero strategies.
The Science Based Targets initiative (SBTi) recently released their first-ever guidelines to help corporates understand and set net zero targets. According to SBTi, more than half of the global economy is now covered by net-zero commitments. Despite this, however, a lack of existing guidance has meant that corporate approaches to Net Zero have been largely inconsistent. As a result, the paper was written to increase consistency by providing clarity around net-zero and setting net-zero targets. The paper analyzes various strategies for setting net-zero targets and then puts forward its own recommendations, which focus on abating emissions in line with science to create a climate-positive approach going beyond Net Zero. The guidelines continue to emphasize the importance of financial support for carbon emission reduction projects or carbon removal projects for the transition phase to Net Zero and beyond.