What is Net Zero, carbon & climate neutrality and why the race to zero emissions matters

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What exactly is net-zero, carbon neutrality and climate neutrality and why is it important?

Simply put, net-zero is the term given to not adding any new emissions into the atmosphere. Whilst emissions will continue, they will become balanced as an equivalent amount is absorbed from the atmosphere.

Almost every nation of the world has joined the Paris Agreement on climate change, which aims to keep the global temperature at 1.5 C above the levels measured before the industrial era.

If the world continues to push out emissions which cause climate change, temperatures are bound to rise well above the 1.5 limits to levels which could threaten the livelihoods and lives of individuals all over the world.

It is for this reason that a large number of nations are committing to achieving net-zero emissions or carbon neutrality within the next couple of decades. This is a massive task which will require action starting immediately.

The goal is net-zero by 2050. However, nations have to also demonstrate the manner in which they would get there. Efforts taken to achieve net-zero have to be complemented with resilience measures and adaptation, as well as the mobilization of climate financing for developing countries.

Is there a way the world can move towards net-zero?

The great news is that there exists the technology to achieve net-zero. It also helps that it is affordable. 

A major part is fueling economies using clean clean energy, replacing coal, gas and oil-fired; stations with renewable energy sources like solar or wind farms. These would help to significantly lower carbon emissions. Additionally, renewable energy is not only cleaner, it is also much cheaper compared to fossil fuels. 

A general switch to renewable energy-peered electric transport can also play a massive role in reducing emissions. This will also have the added benefit of cutting down air pollution in the world’s largest cities. Electric vehicles have increasingly become more efficient and cheaper, and this has caused numerous countries, especially those with commitments to the net-zero aim to propose plans to phase out the sale of fossil fuel-powered vehicles. 

There are other sources of harmful emissions such as agriculture, with livestock producing significant levels of methane, which is a greenhouse gas. These gases can be drastically reduced if we choose to consume more plant-based foods and eat less meat. The signs at this juncture are quite promising as plant-based meats are becoming increasingly popular to the point where they are being sold at major international fast-food chains. 

What will happen to remaining emissions?

Lowering emissions is extremely important. In order to achieve net-zero, there have to be innovative methods of removing carbon from the atmosphere. Thankfully, there are solutions at hand. The most pertinent of those have existed in nature for thousands of years.

These “nature-based solutions” include forests, peat bogs, mangroves, soil and even underground seaweed forests, which are all highly efficient at absorbing carbon. This is why massive fed forts are being made all over the world to plant trees, save forests and rehabilitate mangrove and peat areas. Also, farming techniques are being improved. 

Who is responsible for getting to net-zero?

Every one of us is responsible as individuals, in regards to changing our habits and living in a manner that is more sustainable. This means doing less harm to the planet and making lifestyle changes that have been highlighted in the UN’s Act Now campaign

Moreover, the private sector also has to commit to these changes and it is doing so via the UN Global Compact, which helps businesses to align with the UN’s environmental and societal goals.

According to the IPCC Special Report: Global Warming of 1.5°C, the definitions are as follows:

Definition of carbon neutrality

Carbon neutrality, or net-zero carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions, is achieved when your organisation’s CO2 emissions are balanced globally by CO2 removal, typically over one year.

Definition of net-zero emissions

Net-zero emissions are achieved when your organisation’s emissions of all greenhouse gases (CO2-e) are balanced by greenhouse gas removals, typically over one year.

Definition of climate neutrality

Climate neutrality is achieved when organisational activities result in no net effect on the climate system. In climate-neutral claims, regional or local bio-geophysical effects have to be accounted for as well, such as radiative forcing (e.g. from aircraft condensation trails).

In summary, a carbon-neutral target relates to carbon dioxide only, whereas a ‘net-zero’ goal includes all greenhouse gases, and a ‘climate-neutral’ goals extends to other effects such as radiative forcing as well.

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