We are currently facing the issue of climate change as our global temperature increases. Human activity has caused a surplus of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases to accumulate in our atmosphere, resulting in global warming at an unprecedented rate. The solution we need to combat global warming is a worldwide effort to achieve a net-zero climate goal.
Reducing emissions to net-zero can slow the warming of our planet and ensure sustainable living for future generations. We’ll cover what exactly a net-zero climate goal is and what it means to achieve it. Then, we’ll look into the coalition of nations and institutions that are on board with achieving this goal, plus the standard required for the world to become carbon neutral. Finally, we’ll explore how net-zero is only the beginning and how our world can become net-negative to remove the greenhouse gases we’ve already emitted.
What Is a Net-Zero Climate Goal?
Achieving a net-zero climate goal means that the amount of greenhouse gases (GHGs) emitted is offset by the amount of greenhouse gases absorbed from the atmosphere. In other words, the concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere will stop rising instead of continuing to grow at the current rate of 40 billion metric tons per year.
In its broad sense, the term net-zero emissions refers to curbing the total amount of human-related emissions around the globe. However, some companies and nations use the term to refer to their individual climate goals as well.
What Does Achieving Net-Zero Mean?
Setting a goal for achieving net-zero emissions means that humanity is no longer increasing the quantity of greenhouse gas in the atmosphere. Greenhouse gases trap heat in Earth’s atmosphere and cause global warming and climate change. Bringing greenhouse gas emissions down to net-zero means the greenhouse warming effect will stop, and Earth’s temperature will regulate.
Achieving net-zero emissions is different than achieving zero emissions. Zero emissions would mean that no greenhouse gases are emitted at all. Net-zero implies that some greenhouse gas is still emitted into the atmosphere, but the amount of greenhouse gases being removed from the atmosphere offsets the amount that is being released.
What Is the Net-Zero Coalition?
A growing coalition of nations, cities, corporations, educational institutions, and financial institutions have set targets for achieving net-zero climate goals.
Currently, more than 70 nations have set dates for when they intend to achieve net-zero emissions. These nations are responsible for emitting 76% of global greenhouse gas emissions, so achieving net-zero would be a significant milestone in the fight against global warming. China, the United States, and the European Union are the three largest emitters, and all have set net-zero emissions targets.
Many companies, cities, and institutions have joined the United Nations-backed Race to Zero campaign. The campaign targets non-state actors and encourages them to “take rigorous and immediate action to halve global emissions by 2030 and deliver a healthier, fairer zero carbon world in time.”
Currently, the members who have joined the Race to Zero campaign include:
1,103 educational institutions
541 financial institutions
Over 3,000 hospitals from 60 healthcare institutions
24 “other” institutions
What Are Net-Zero Standards?
With the growing commitments to net-zero climate goals around the world, it is apparent that standards are necessary to track the progress of the non-state entities in the private sector that have set net-zero goals. Experts are working to develop these standards that work as frameworks to guide non-state entities toward achieving net-zero with efficiency.
The United Nations Secretary General António Guterres expressed his intention to create a group of experts that will develop standards to monitor net-zero commitments from corporations around the world. In response to his statement, three organizations that specialize in developing international standards — The International Electrotechnical Commission (IEC), the International Organization for Standardization (ISO), and the International Telecommunication Union (ITU) — have agreed to work with the United Nations to achieve this goal.
These organizations already have created standards used for sustainability policymaking at an international level. Many nations refer to these standards that include measuring carbon emissions, setting rules for climate change mitigation, and presenting options for carbon-free technology opportunities.
How Do We Achieve Net-Zero?
It is possible to achieve net-zero climate goals by the year 2050, as outlined in the Paris Agreement. We have the technology available to reduce emissions and start capturing greenhouse gases from the atmosphere.
There are four main steps required to achieve net-zero emissions by 2050:
Clean energy: Most of the electricity generated in the United States comes from natural gas, nuclear energy, and coal. In 2020, only 20% of energy came from renewable sources. In order to achieve net-zero goals, the unavoidable transition from petroleum power to clean electricity generation must occur. These options include renewable energy like wind, solar, and hydropower. Another option is nuclear energy, which provides a clean energy source.
Electricity over fossil fuels: In the United States, the transportation sector emits the most greenhouse gases each year. Most of the transportation of goods and people relies on vehicles that burn fossil fuels to operate. Switching to vehicles and other machinery that operate on electricity rather than fossil fuels will have a significant impact on emissions reductions and is necessary in the process of decarbonization.
Energy efficiency: As the world begins to transition to electricity over fossil fuel use, energy efficiency is essential as part of the change. The more energy-efficient vehicles, appliances, homes, and large buildings are, the less energy has to be generated. Reducing the amount of energy used will aid in the transition to clean energy production in the future.
Atmospheric carbon removal: Not only do we have to reduce the amount of carbon dioxide, methane, and other GHG emissions, but we also have to remove emissions from the atmosphere. One way this can be done is through conservation. Forests and oceans naturally absorb CO2 emissions and store them, so conserving these areas is essential. Another option is to utilize direct air capture technology. This carbon capture and storage technology removes greenhouse gases directly from the atmosphere.
Why Is Net-Zero So Important?
Net-zero is important because it is our only option to resist the devastating effects of global warming and climate change. Human activity has caused a spike in greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere, leading to rapid global warming. As the planet’s temperature increases, the climate has started to change at a rapid rate.
The effects of climate change have devastating impacts on all life on Earth. Ecosystems have difficulty reacting to the changes in the length of seasons and weather patterns, putting many species at risk of extinction.
Human society is not exempt from experiencing the effects of climate change. The social cost of high carbon dioxide emissions has created public health and economic concerns around the world.
In order to avoid the traumatic changes we are causing to our planet, it is paramount for the world to embrace the net-zero climate goals set in place. When we achieve net-zero emissions, our planet can begin to heal itself and return to its natural state.
Is Net-Zero Enough?
While net-zero emissions and carbon neutrality are imperative to reach by the year 2050 if we want to keep Earth from warming beyond 2 degrees Celsius, it is only the beginning. The world should have its sights set on a distant goal of achieving negative emissions. Meaning we remove more greenhouse gases from the atmosphere than we put in.
We have already emitted billions of metric tons of CO2 into the atmosphere so removing the amount of carbon we have already emitted is a must going into the future. For now, achieving the goal of net-zero is the world’s most important climate goal. Once that goal is reached, we can work toward becoming net-negative with the hopes of restoring atmospheric carbon concentrations to pre-industrial levels.
What Are Some Examples of Carbon Offset Projects?
While net-zero goals are often discussed in terms of large entities, like nations and corporations, achieving carbon neutrality, individuals can also take a stand and offset their own carbon footprint. The more people that get involved with carbon offsetting, the less carbon is entering the atmosphere.
Carbon offset credits are purchased by individuals and businesses who want to reduce their environmental impact. When you purchase a carbon offset, you are supporting projects that capture and destroy greenhouse gases and support renewable energy projects.
Some examples of carbon offset projects include:
Landfill gas capture: Landfills produce methane as garbage decomposes. These projects capture methane and use it to generate power.
Renewable energy: Clean energy projects, like wind and solar power, do not emit any greenhouse gases.
Forestry: Protecting forests means protecting one of Earth’s natural carbon sinks. Healthier forests mean less CO2 in the atmosphere.
Industrial gas destruction: Preventing industrial gases, like ozone-depleting hydrofluorocarbons, from entering the atmosphere can reduce global warming.
Utilizing carbon offsets to reduce your carbon footprint for your home or your business is an excellent option to involve yourself in the global goal of reaching net-zero emissions.
All Aboard for a Net-Zero Future
There is no doubt that climate action is necessary for the future of our planet. Fortunately, many nations aim to reach net-zero emissions for a better future. Once the world puts an end to pouring additional greenhouse gases into the atmosphere, we can begin to see a change in the damage we’ve caused to our planet.
By switching to clean energy, making electricity more efficient, and removing carbon from the atmosphere, net-zero climate goals are within reach. Once our initial reduction targets are realized, we can set our minds to working toward net-negative goals for an even brighter future.
If you want to participate in achieving global net-zero emissions at the individual level, check out Terrapass’ carbon-offsetting solutions.
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