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Carbon neutrality versus net zero

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Scientists have been warning both the public and private sectors about the effects of climate change for decades. One crucial step all organisations can take is to decarbonise their operations as quickly as possible. We have already missed the mark for meeting 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels. It is therefore imperative for us to decarbonise, and to remove carbon for the atmosphere to limit further effects we would be subject to if we went above 2 degrees Celsius.

As such, governments around the world have started to act, and most of the developed countries have pledged to become net zero by 2050. To meet the target, organisations need to begin the process as soon as possible. The easiest way is through achieving carbon neutrality en route to net zero.

However, politicians and corporations seem to use these terms interchangeably. This has been adding to the mounting confusion about what they refer to. Google trends indicate that following the COP26 in Glasgow, there was an increase in searches for these key terms. More recently, with the Conservative leadership elections approaching, net zero is becoming an essential term that everyone needs to understand.

So, what is carbon neutrality? And what is net zero?

Carbon neutral versus net zero
Carbon neutral versus net zero

What is carbon neutrality?

At heart, both terms refer to the necessity to reduce and compensate for our global greenhouse gas emissions.

Carbon neutral aims to neutralise global emissions. In previous posts, we have explained how the voluntary carbon market functions, and given an overview of various types of carbon credits. In order to achieve carbon neutrality, one must first calculate their operational emissions with a carbon footprinting tool. Then, one can offset an equivalent volume of emissions through carbon avoidance or removal credits.

There is scepticism about offsetting and carbon neutrality, as people often misunderstand these as a ‘right to pollute’, which ultimately continues existing climatological issues. To avoid such claims, Plannet Zero stresses the importance of devising a roadmap to first reduce emissions in scopes 1 and 2. In line with the Science Based Target initiative (SBTi), we suggest a 5% year-on-year reduction. This may not seem like much, but a small and steady pace makes it more achievable for organisations, putting them on the path to reach net zero prior to 2050.

Offsets are not, and should not be used as, an alternative to decarbonisation. Their aim is to compensate for residual emissions. These are emissions that organisations cannot yet avoid while on path to decarbonisation. This is especially true for hard to abate sectors such as steel manufacturing.

Achieving carbon neutrality is a first step for organisations to tackle their emissions and become net zero.

What is net zero?

Net zero embraces the bathtub analogy. We need to be removing as many greenhouse gases as we are emitting. Here, scopes 1, 2 and 3 need to be taken into account. As such, one needs to compensate their emissions through the use of carbon removal credits with verified permanence.

Carbon removal credits capture and store carbon, removing these from the atmosphere. So, net zero means that you are purchasing carbon removal credits to the amount of carbon you are emitting.

Several factors mean that achieving net zero rapidly is particularly challenging. The first is economic: removal credits are currently significantly more expensive to purchase than avoidance credits. The second is regulatory. In order to become net zero, companies must have reduced their baseline emissions by 90% from 2018 levels. As such, net zero holds tighter regulations, and requires planning as well as a massive decarbonisation effort.

How to act now?

Achieving carbon neutrality is a steppingstone towards net zero. Plannet Zero can help you get started on your climate journey and can help you attain carbon neutrality through a few simple steps. Plannet Zero also offers in-house training sessions, news updates, and a competitive marketplace for purchasing your offsets. Contact one of the members of our team to find out how you can begin your carbon journey today.

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