Net zero: Just a patch on emissions or a path to save the planet? | Explanation News
More than 190 countries pledged in 2015 to limit global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius (2.7 degrees Fahrenheit) above pre-industrial levels to avoid the worst effects of climate change such as drought, flooding and loss of cash.
Scientists say reducing global carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions to ‘net zero’ by 2050 is the way to achieve the central goal of the Paris Agreement, although it has been left to states. individuals figure out how to achieve what they signed up for.
Some, like Britain and France, have legislated a net zero target for 2050, while many other countries and countless companies have declared policies aimed at net zero by 2050.
But what does net zero mean and will it put the world on track to meet its Paris goals?
What does net zero mean?
Net zero does not mean zero emissions, but balancing the remaining greenhouse gas emissions with other actions.
While countries and businesses say they will cut emissions as much as possible, net zero means some sectors are still expected to release greenhouse gases in 2050.
To offset them, emitters rely on projects that reduce emissions elsewhere or on the use of natural or technological solutions to prevent emissions from reaching the atmosphere.
Natural solutions include planting trees or restoring soil or wetlands, while technical projects include capturing and storing CO2 when it is emitted, or sucking carbon from the air – which have not yet had an impact on the climate, as their use remains relatively small-scale.
Will trees and offsets be effective?
Countless voluntary initiatives have sprung up offering forest project-based compensation certificates and other nature-based solutions that individuals and businesses can purchase.
Critics say such offsets are a fig leaf for continued fossil fuel consumption. They underline the absence of common standards and difficult to verify reference bases determining the climate added value of the projects underlying the compensation certificates.
An August report from the charity Oxfam said using land alone to eliminate global carbon emissions to achieve net zero by 2050 would require new forests at least five times the size of India or more than all the agricultural land on the planet.
Proponents say offsets are a useful tool to boost investment in nature conservation as the global economy goes down to zero.
Contribution of carbon capture
Typically, carbon capture and storage (CCS) refers to the types of filters on industrial chimneys and projects for underground storage of filtered carbon, for example in abandoned oil fields.
Most current CCS projects can decarbonise high emission industrial processes. They do not suck carbon from the atmosphere but simply block new carbon from entering.
Although the technology has been proven successful, the global capacity of CCS is only around 40 million tonnes of CO2.
There is technology that results in negative emissions, for example direct air capture (DAC) or projects that combine bioenergy with technology to capture and store carbon emissions.
A June report from the Coalition for Negative Emissions (CNE) said the pipeline of developing projects could only remove around 150 million tonnes of CO2 by 2025, with only a tiny reduction in global emissions, which reached a record 59.1 billion tonnes in 2020, according to a report by the United Nations Environment Program.
Establish a carbon budget
Greenhouse gases are not only made up of CO2 but also gases like CH4 (methane) and N2O (nitrous oxide), which are often expressed in tonnes of CO2 equivalent or tCO2e.
In 2019, atmospheric CO2 concentrations were higher than at any time for at least two million years, and concentrations of CH4 and N2O were higher than at any time for at least 800,000 years.
Global CO2 equivalent (CO2e) emissions hit a record 59.1 billion tonnes in 2020, according to the United Nations Environment Program report in April.
Annual emissions must be reduced to 25 billion tonnes of CO2e by 2030 to limit the increase in global warming to 1.5 ° C, he said.
The Earth’s surface temperature was already 1.09 ° C (1.96 ° F) higher in 2011-20 than it was in 1850-1900.
If the world continues on its current trajectory, the increase could be 2C (3.6F) by 2060 and 2.7C by the end of the century, according to the Intergovernmental Panel on the Evolution of the World. weather. An increase of 2.7 ° C (4.96 ° F) has been described as “catastrophic” for the planet.
Not yet zero?
Aside from many criticisms of companies’ reliance on offsets that have not yet materialized, there is no standardized way to present net zero strategies and emissions reporting, which makes difficult the liability of holding companies.
Selling high-emission assets – a move that can improve the appearance of a company’s emissions bulletin – makes no difference to the planet’s atmosphere if the buyer continues to operate the asset.
Countries and businesses also face increasing pressure to set detailed and binding interim targets by 2050 to avoid fears that CEOs and political leaders will only kick in the future.
Prominent climate activist Greta Thunberg has criticized the net zero goals, counting them among hollow promises by world leaders after years of climate talks.
India calls net zero
India’s Federal Environment Minister Bhupender Yadav recently said setting net zero targets was not a solution and rich countries should instead recognize their “historic responsibility” while ensuring the interests of developing countries and people vulnerable to climate change.
Although India is the third largest emitter of greenhouse gases after China and the United States, it has historically contributed only 4% of total emissions since the 1850s.
Gupta added that “net zero in itself is not a solution” since cumulative emissions were the cause of the problem and not how much each country is currently emitting. Instead, he argued, countries need to focus on how much carbon is released into the atmosphere while meeting that target.