Individuals and communities across the globe are suffering from the effects of extreme weather conditions and the need for concerted action on climate change has never been more urgent. A 2017 UN climate report found that climate-related events, such as Hurricanes Irma, Harvey, and Maria, wildfires in Portugal, unprecedented flooding in Bangladesh, India, and Nepal, including coral bleaching in Australia’s Great Barrier Reef, came with a human and financial cost, estimated to be USD320 billion. Climate effects are shifting the environment, altering communities, and changing lives. This calls for commitments from companies and governments around the world to take early action while committing to make their buildings net-zero carbon emissions by 2050. To this, the ideal solution framed by the world was net-zero carbon emission. So what exactly does net zero refer to and how can it be achieved?
The term net-zero refers to the target of reducing greenhouse gas emissions that cause global warming to zero. The amount released into the atmosphere from sources needs to be balanced with the amount removed and stored by carbon sinks. This is further described as ‘carbon neutrality or ‘climate neutrality.
Achieving net-zero carbon emission requires significant abatement of greenhouse gas emissions across all sectors of the economy. Few simple examples will be switching from fossil fuels to renewables, including wind and solar power to generate electricity, which will significantly reduce carbon dioxide emission on the planet Earth.
For deeper cuts in emissions, economies around the world require large-scale investment and innovation to provide economically competitive yet technological-viable solutions. Some of the alternatives include fossil-fuel intensive technologies in sectors like heating and transport, which can reduce the emission of greenhouse gases other than carbon dioxide from sectors like agriculture.
Abating emissions from some sectors such as cement, aviation, and shipping is currently considered difficult and expensive. It is unlikely that carbon emission will be reduced to zero in the timescale to meet the Paris Agreement temperature targets. In order to manage the same, there will be ‘residual’ emissions and the equivalent amount of these will need to be removed from the atmosphere as ‘negative emissions’.
There are various solutions and removing greenhouse gases that can be achieved through natural solutions such as planting trees and land management changes to increase the amount of carbon sequestered into the soil. Negative emissions technologies such as Direct Air Capture (DAC) and Bioenergy with Carbon Capture and Storage (BECCS) will also need to play a role. However, these technologies are as yet unproven at scale, as they can be expensive and energy-intensive, which can lead to unwanted negative impacts.
For instance, governments around the world can use international offsets to meet their own individual next-zero targets. Offsets are used especially if it is difficult for the country to reduce some of its own territorial emissions, for example – Norway – has a large oil and gas industry.
The government can buy offsets that allow them to invest in an emission reduction project outside its borders but it is sometimes criticized for moving the problem elsewhere and in some countries, there is poor governance of offsets.
A number of countries, including the UK, have made commitments to move to a net-zero emissions economy. This is in response to climate science showing that in order to halt climate change and meet the 1.5 degrees Celsius global warming target in the Paris Agreement. In the Paris Agreement, the government agreed to keep global warming well below 2 degrees Celsius and to make efforts to keep it below 1.5 degrees Celsius.
The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) released a report in October 2018 on a 1.5 degrees Celsius target. It concluded that global emissions need to reach net-zero around mid-century to give a reasonable chance of limiting warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius. Negative emission is one important factor as a greenhouse gas that can easily be absorbed from the atmosphere is carbon dioxide.
Basically, there are two approaches to extracting it: by stimulating nature to absorb more and by building technology that does the job. Plants absorb CO2 as they grow, through photosynthesis. Therefore, all other things being equal, having plants growing faster, will remove more from the atmosphere.
The two of the easiest and most effective approaches for negative emissions are afforestation – planting more forest and reforestation – replacing forest that has been lost or thinned. Some of the technical solutions can also mark the negative emissions.
In 2019, United Kingdom became the first major economy to legislate for net-zero, changing the long-term in the Climate Change Act of 2008 to net-zero by 2050. The government was following guidance from the UK’s independent advisory body, the Climate Change Committee, which stressed that a net-zero target was essential for the UK to meet its commitment to Paris Agreement goals.
As per Energy and Climate Intelligence Unit’s ‘Net Zero Tracker’ report – January 2021, five other countries have passed net-zero legislation: Sweden, France, Denmark, New Zealand, and Hungary all with a 2050 target date except Sweden (2045). Other countries have updated their NDCs, proposed legislation, or expressed their intent to reach net-zero. Following, Chinese President Xi Jinping announced in September 2020 that China, the world’s biggest emitter, would strive to be carbon-neutral by 2060.
Meanwhile, European Union set out its blockwide net-zero target for 2050 in its European Green Deal published in December 2019. Following that, United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) in September 2020 reported that the number of net-zero commitments from local governments and businesses had roughly doubled in less than a year as many actors are taking part in the UN Race to Zero campaign.
Countries with their net-zero plan:-
United Kingdom – 2050
France – 2050
Denmark – 2050
New Zealand – 2050
Hungary – 2050
Japan – 2050
South Korea – 2050
To achieve a net-zero target, governments around the world need to move fast and ensure liability, productivity, and long-term sustainability across cities. The world has to rethink the way we build and the way they live. If economies are to grow, then everyone has to accelerate the shift to a low-carbon future.
Countries so far have made promising starts, but there is much still to be done as there is a turning point. In order to catch all the latest information and news, connect with the AlShorts application that offers short news in 30 seconds. In regard to climate change, there is a lot to hold-on and AlShorts brings you all the latest news related to climate change.