Net zero is a term used to describe a state where the amount of greenhouse gas emissions produced by a country, business, organisation or individual is balanced by the amount removed from the atmosphere.
It’s a target aimed at reducing the net amount of greenhouse gases emitted into the atmosphere, thereby mitigating the consequences of climate change.
The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) stated that limiting global warming to below 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels was crucial to prevent dangerous and potentially irreversible impacts, such as rising sea levels, more intense and frequent heatwaves, increased frequency and intensity of natural disasters, and widespread extinction of species.
To meet this target, the IPCC estimated that global greenhouse gas emissions needed to reach net zero by around 2050.
However, the world is not on target to reach this goal – and many experts fear this still would not be sufficient to avoid catastrophe anyway.
According to the World Research Institute, global temperatures have already risen by 1.1ºC, leading to an increase in natural disasters such as flooding, wildfires and hurricanes.
The IPCC’s report of 2022 warned that the world is on target to reach the 1.5ºC level by 2040, and claimed, even if the most drastic cuts in carbon emissions were implemented now, we would still only reach 2ºC by 2050.
So while there is much talk from politicians about reaching net zero by 2050, the reality appears to be very different.
The IPCC set out five scenarios in its report, each depending on actions to be taken. The worst of the scenarios would see global temperatures rise by more than 4ºC by the end of the century, which would bring on an environmental disaster affecting all life on earth.
It’s easy to think that this is far into the future, but the truth of the matter is that our lives are already being blighted by the climate crisis. Our children and grandchildren face severe consequences.
How Do We Achieve Net Zero?
To achieve net zero, it is essential to transition away from fossil fuels and towards renewable energy sources, such as wind, solar, and hydropower. This requires significant investments in new technologies, as well as changes in behaviour and lifestyle, and therein lies the challenge.
Carbon capture, utilisation and storage (CCUS) technology is a potential part solution to help reach net zero. It involves capturing carbon dioxide emissions produced by industrial processes, such as power generation, and storing them underground, rather than releasing them into the atmosphere.
However, current technologies cannot achieve this on anything like the scale required to avoid disaster.
It is also crucial to protect and restore forests, wetlands, and other ecosystems, which act as carbon sinks and help to absorb carbon dioxide from the atmosphere.
Instead of clearing forests for grazing animals, the world needs to implement reforestation projects to help increase the amount of carbon removed from the atmosphere.
Achieving net zero requires collaboration and coordination between governments, businesses, and individuals. Governments can play a crucial role by setting ambitious targets, developing policies that support the transition to a low-carbon economy, and investing to accelerate the deployment of new technologies.
Businesses can also contribute by reducing their own emissions and investing in renewable energy, as well as by developing and promoting low-carbon products and services.
Individuals can help by reducing their own carbon footprint, for example, by eating a low-carbon diet, reducing energy consumption at home, choosing low-carbon transport options, and doing everything greener, as promoted through our Shop Greener guide.
The crucial point is that talk is cheap. Action is required across the world. And now.