An overview what is net zero: the abbreviation stands for carbon neutrality, one of the most important themes for the coming decades that aims to achieve the global goal of climate neutrality by 2050.
After the Paris Climate Agreement, the Energy Transition for Green Growth Act and the Environmental Code introduced the principle of a National Low Carbon Strategy (SNBC) in Europe.
Concretely, it is a roadmap that specifies the guidelines that countries must follow to reduce greenhouse gas emissions with two objectives, discussed below.
Achieve Net Zero by 2050
Signed in 2015, the Paris Agreement specifies that in order to achieve the long-term temperature target, the group of (194) signatory countries seeks to reach a global ceiling on greenhouse gas emissions as soon as possible, it will take longer to the developing countries.
What is net zero?
When a State or a company wants to “achieve carbon neutrality”, this does not mean zero CO2 emissions by 2050 — as evidenced by the carbon tax or the carbon credit.
As defined by the European Parliament, carbon neutrality is “the balance between carbon emissions and the absorption of carbon from the atmosphere by carbon sinks”.
In other words, when an organization commits to achieving it, it can continue to emit carbon sustainably, or even more, as long as it is committed to actions that sequester the equivalent carbon in the atmosphere.
Why pursue carbon neutrality?
When talking about combating global warming, a verb appears that is valid for all subjects: reduce. Without a plan to drastically reduce the emissions of these greenhouse gases into the atmosphere, the climate will continue to race against humanity and other species towards an unsustainable temperature rise.
It’s all about balance
As climate skeptics like to repeat, carbon is naturally present in the atmosphere to varying degrees throughout Earth’s history. But since 1870, the date of the first Industrial Revolution, 2,260 gigatons of C02 have been released exclusively because of human activities.
Half ended up straight into the atmosphere. This generated a warming of +1°C, and the other half in so-called “non-anthropogenic” reservoirs, such as the ocean and forests.
We can only limit global warming by activating 2 levers: reducing emissions and developing carbon sinks.
The whole challenge of carbon neutrality lies precisely in this balance between the rejection of CO2 , on the one hand, and the absorption by the reservoirs, on the other. We can limit climate change by activating 2 levers on a global scale: reducing emissions and developing carbon sinks to achieve Net Zero
Annual global greenhouse gas emissions reached 37.1 gigatons in 2017. According to the European Commission, natural reservoirs (soil, oceans, forests) eliminate between 9.5 and 11 gigatons of CO2 per year. You’ll have understood: you don’t have to be an engineer to notice that the equation leans (a lot) to one side.
If these natural reservoirs are not enough, why not create artificial carbon sinks? “A few more years and the challenge will be overcome by technical progress”, says the most optimistic. Unfortunately, we are far from that.
The most ambitious project to date promises to capture 1% of global greenhouse gas emissions by 2025.
How to reach Net Zero?
How to act concretely? What strategy to adopt to fight climate change? At what level? Because companies, states and citizens each have their role to play, we present here three scales (and two levers).
How can a company achieve carbon neutrality?
As always, we have better control over what we can measure, the first building block of a commitment to ecological transition is usually the Company’s Carbon Footprint.
Whatever the sector of activity in question, this essential exercise makes it possible to audit all the activities of a company, identify where to put its efforts, better target its objectives and its sustainable development policy.
From there, companies can (should) prioritize reducing their own direct emissions. They are those who emit from their factories and their means of transport, for example, the production of energy (in the form of electricity or heat) associated with the manufacture of a product.
Then act on indirect emissions: those that come from your suppliers and subcontractors. They also have the possibility to act in the reduction of emissions through the commercialization of low carbon solutions. For example, offering an electric car instead of a thermal car. Or invest in other companies’ labeled low-carbon projects.
If you remember the definition of carbon neutrality, you tell yourself that the equation is not complete if the company does not contribute to the increase in global absorption capacities — made possible by the famous carbon sinks.
Pillars of carbon neutrality and what is net zero role
For this, there are two solutions: develop carbon absorption technologies within itself and in its value chain or — and this is the most common option — finance carbon sinks, most often called “offset” or “contribution to collective carbon neutrality”” projects.
In line with the commitments assumed by the Paris Agreement, the National Assembly enshrined in law in June 2019 the objective of achieving carbon neutrality by 2050.
For this, the SNBC — Strategy mentioned above — must now be taken into account in all public policies. A February 2020 report details the roadmap (and concrete goals) of this SNBC, in particular:
- End the sale of light thermal vehicles in 2040;
- Improve energy efficiency (and accelerate the pace of renovation);
- Develop agroecology and precision agriculture;
- Massive support for renewable energies;
- Promote low carbon technologies;
- Strengthen the circular economy;
- Control energy demand;
- Decarbonize and diversify the productive energy matrix.
Can the citizens help get to NetZero?
It must be clear that individual actions, however well-intentioned, are not capable of solving this equation alone.
What’s the point of having a renewable energy source in your home, if there are another 7 billion people depending on carbon-based electricity?
However, in an economic system there are two important pressures: public pressure on politics and consumer pressure on companies. Therefore, on a personal level, you can also develop “low carbon strategies”, devoting a little time and energy to them:
- Consume local products and less meat;
- Implement zero waste public policies;
- Avoid flying as much as possible;
- Obtain electricity/gas from a renewable energy producer;
- Carry out work for thermal insulation in your home, avoiding the excessive use of fans and air conditioning.
Allies for the climate
To enhance personal efforts and be relevant in this fight against time, it is important to find allies that are at the forefront of this agenda, such as NGOs for reforestation, species preservation and defense of indigenous communities, which are the greatest protectors of the ecosystem due to their cultures, harmonious with the environment.
It is possible to get involved with these initiatives in different ways, such as helping with crowdfunding so that activists can continue doing their work or even volunteering to contribute to actions with a positive environmental impact.
Immerse yourself in the sustainable initiatives that are known today and stay alert for new actions that are sure to emerge because, if taken seriously by an increasing number of citizens, everyone can contribute to the success of Net Zero.