June 30, 2021

What Does Net Zero Emissions Mean?

What Does Net Zero Emissions Mean?

According to the World Green Building Council (WorldGBC), there is much confusion around the terms net zero emissions and its variants. They clear the confusion in this statement,

"Within industry, “net zero carbon” is often interchanged with other common terms like “net zero energy”, “carbon neutral”, “carbon negative” and “carbon positive”. All of these terms share a commonality to achieve net zero through a combination of energy efficiency, on-site renewable energy, off-site renewable energy and/or offsets. While the end result appears similar, the typical combinations defined within each term vary substantially, and therefore, so do the actual emissions released into the atmosphere. The absence of a globally adopted standard to clarify these terms has reinforced confusion on what the best practice approach is and hindered decarbonisation progress worldwide."

Carbon offsetting should actually be the last resort when achieving net zero emissions. What's the difference between net zero and carbon neutral?

"Carbon neutral means that while some emissions are still being generated by a building/process these emissions are being offset somewhere else making the overall net emissions zero." - Julie's Bicycle, a London based climate change charity.

How can we achieve net zero CO2 emissions?

To achieve net zero is to take the CO2 emissions out of the atmosphere in order to get as close to 1.5C global warming by 2100 per the Paris Agreement, which means this can help global warming but it isn't going to stop the damage that has already been done, it's just not making it worse.

WRI global timeline to reach net zero emissions
Image source: World Resources Institute

To be able to achieve this we will have to take the CO2 emissions out that are already in the atmosphere. The longer that they linger (see chart above), the harder it's going to be to limit global warming to 1.5C which is already destructive enough. If emissions peak sooner, it will be easier to remove them from the atmosphere after the net zero goal is achieved. It's important for your company to be aware of your carbon footprint and how you can better align with the Paris Agreement now.

What does net-zero greenhouse gas emissions mean?

There are also 5 other greenhouse gases (GHGs): methane (CH4), nitrous oxide (N2O), hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs), perfluorocarbons (PFCs), sulphur hexafluoride (SF6), and nitrogen trifluoride (NF3) that need to get to net zero by the end of the century besides CO2 emissions. Each nation has to do its part differently depending on its emissions. Like methane for example, which New Zealand plans on combating completely after net zero carbon emissions are accomplished, due to their high agriculture sector. If net zero carbon emissions are achieved sooner, the rest of the GHG emissions can be removed from the atmosphere earlier and that will get us globally closer to our goals by 2070 instead of 2100. If net zero CO2 emissions are achieved by 2050 with 1.5C warming, we can achieve other GHG emissions at net zero by 2063-2068. If they aim for 2C warming by 2070, we will face total net zero GHG emissions by the end of the century.

What countries should try to aim for is to accomplish complete GHG net zero emissions by 2050. All countries in the Paris Agreement won't be able to use the same timeline because they specialize in different sectors, have different geographies, and would have to invest accordingly. It will be a group effort as global warming affects the world and what one nation does will offset another. Additionally, some nations would have to import or export various renewable energy sources into their mix and that happens at different times. Planning now will lighten the stress of delaying important decisions until it is too late.

What does this mean for the world?

From individuals, to corporations, to entire nations, there is a significant shift that we can all accomplish together. Getting ahead of policies now will make it easier to adjust once they are in place and since so many nations have signed the agreement to fight climate change, the laws will be coming. Taking action step-by-step is the key to adding to and taking away from our daily procedures for business and routines in life.

Each nation would have to have 70-85% renewable energy sources for energy by 2050 and to change what kind of fuel they are using for transportation and additionally increase the use of public transportation and more eco-friendly vehicles. Over 110 countries have already begun implementing their strategies and the most important aspects have been those of energy, buildings which account for approximately 40% of all carbon emissions, and transportation solutions. 

Businesses are also coming together to integrate different energy sources into their mix and build only green buildings or convert to them by 2030. Each company has a different way they can contribute, like using alternative fleets with rechargeable energy or clean fuel instead of regular cars that burn gasoline and oil.

Individuals would need to change their eating habits and buy from smart farmers that take care of how agriculture affects the environment. Switching to use of public transportation or bicycle can depend on region and weather. Some regions don't offer public transportation then people will have to make decisions based on what's available to them. 

blue bicycle parked in front of a red brick wall
Image source: Markus Spiske on Unsplash

What's our next step, corporately?

If you are wondering what the next step should be in your company, Net0 can help. Knowing how to measure your carbon footprint will allow you to make actionable plans going forward.

Net0 is a software system that can help measure your carbon emissions data in real-time to calculate your company's carbon footprint precisely on our easy-to-use, cloud-based dashboard. Now it's simple to plan ahead knowing accurately the emissions that you can control and need to cut-back on with investor-grade reporting compatible with your local regulatory requirements. Net0 will empower your company and partners to make more environmentally-conscious decisions that benefit the community around you as well as the world while following government standards that are coming into play. 

Cover photo by: Chelsea on Unsplash

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