You may have read or heard the term ‘net zero’ in energy and climate change discussions. This term is used in several circles, such as climate science, energy companies, organisations, and government agencies, but a clear-cut definition of what the term means can be challenging to define due to its complexity and the various factors involved in achieving it.
‘Net zero’ is seen as a primary goal for climate experts and activists worldwide but is met with scepticism by many major corporations due to concerns about its feasibility and transparency. As with many topics of today, people’s opinions are split between seeing ‘net zero’ as an imperative goal to achieve for the human race’s continued existence or as a vague, nebulous, and ultimately unachievable ideal.
In this blog, we will explore what the term ‘net zero’ means and why many experts across many industries and governments see it as highly significant.
What does ‘Net Zero’ refer to?
Net zero refers to a state in which the greenhouse gases going into the atmosphere are balanced by their removal from the atmosphere. This can be achieved by cutting greenhouse gas emissions to as close to zero as possible, with any remaining emissions re-absorbed from the atmosphere by oceans and forests, or through technology that can capture and store emissions or directly pull CO2 from the atmosphere.
As you might imagine, achieving this will be a monumental task, with many climate experts deeming it necessary and recognising it will be an incredible global effort on the scale we have ever seen or achieved.
‘Net Zero’ and Greenhouse Gases
Greenhouse gas emissions are primarily in the form of carbon dioxide, or CO2. The culprit for many of these emissions is heavy industry worldwide, as well as transportation. Greenhouse gases emerge from burning fossil fuels like coal, natural gas, and petroleum, all of which power our vehicles, keep factories running, and essentially keep the world going.
By shifting towards renewable forms of energy such as solar, wind, and hydropower, climate and energy experts estimate that achieving ‘net zero’ will become a much more achievable goal.
Why is ‘Net Zero’ seen as so significant?
Climate experts argue that because of the link between greenhouse gas emissions and global warming, achieving ‘net zero’ is the only way to keep the earth inhabitable going forward. They argue that there is an upcoming global temperature degree measure we are fast approaching. Upon reaching this global average increase of 1.5 degrees Celsius, experts suggest irreparable damage to the global climate will have been done with far-reaching repercussions.
By keeping below the 1.5 degree Celsius mark and making strides towards net zero emissions, we will slow down and eventually reverse many of the adverse effects humans have created globally. It will also promote a sustainable future by reducing our dependence on fossil fuels, encouraging innovation in how we power our economies, transport people and goods, and feed a growing population, sending a signal to investors that there is a growing demand for low-carbon technologies and that there are opportunities for investment in this area, and improving public health by reducing air pollution.
What can be done to achieve ‘Net Zero’?
While efforts have been underway globally, much more still needs to be done to achieve ‘net zero.’ Time is running out drastically, though.
In 2018, the IPCC (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change) stated that achieving the Paris Climate Accord’s 2050 mark of limiting global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius (or less) would require a rapid and significant reduction in global greenhouse gas emissions and a worldwide shift towards renewable energy before 2050.
While international panels and governments have accepted global warming and climate change as significant threats, determining how they will meet these targets and obligations has been challenging.
To achieve net zero emissions: –
- We can reduce human-caused emissions as close to zero as possible by transitioning to renewable energy sources, improving energy efficiency, and reducing waste.
- Balance remaining emissions with carbon removal, which can be achieved through natural solutions such as reforestation and soil carbon sequestration or through technological solutions such as direct air capture and storage.
- Use zero-carbon sources with renewable energy sources such as wind, solar, and hydropower, as well as nuclear power.
- Reduce emissions across all sectors of the economy. For example, in the energy sector.
- Encourage innovation in how we power our economies, transport people and goods, and feed a growing population.
Achieving ‘net zero’, which slows or reverses the effects of climate change, has become one of the most critical global targets. All countries have experienced or will experience the negative impacts of climate change, hence its significance. Yet, while there is a unanimous global sentiment that something needs to be done, agreement on how to go about it seems like a remote possibility. Despite the challenges in achieving net zero, there are growing commitments from national governments, local governments, and business leaders to reach net-zero emissions within their jurisdictions or businesses. Meanwhile, the clock continues to tick, and there is no Plan(et) B.