Net zero is a term used to describe a state in which the amount of greenhouse gas emissions produced equals the amount removed from the atmosphere. It's the point at which the balance between emissions and removals is achieved, resulting in no net contribution to global warming. Achieving net zero requires reducing emissions as much as possible and offsetting any remaining emissions by planting trees or investing in carbon capture technologies.
Net-zero is becoming increasingly crucial in the battle against climate change because it gives people, organisations, and governments a specific and effective objective to aim towards. By adopting a net-zero economy, we can lessen the worst effects of climate change, safeguard the environment, and guarantee a sustainable future for generations to come.
Achieving net zero requires the economy's entire energy, transportation, agricultural, and industrial sectors to reduce GHG emissions significantly. Combining strategies such as increasing energy efficiency, switching to renewable energy sources, electrifying transportation, and deploying low-carbon technologies can help achieve this.
Any excess emissions can be offset by actions that remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, such as reforestation, soil carbon sequestration, or carbon capture and storage technology. With the help of these initiatives, emissions and removals will be balanced, leaving a net-zero carbon footprint.
According to the UN "The science shows clearly that in order to avert the worst impacts of climate change and preserve a livable planet, global temperature increase needs to be limited to 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels. Currently, the Earth is already about 1.1°C warmer than it was in the late 1800s, and emissions continue to rise. To keep global warming to no more than 1.5°C – as called for in the Paris Agreement – emissions need to be reduced by 45% by 2030 and reach net zero by 2050."
Net zero is crucial in the fight against climate change because it sets a specific, attainable goal for cutting GHG emissions. Rising sea levels, more frequent and severe weather events, and a decline in biodiversity are just a few of the harmful environmental effects caused by the continuous rise in global temperatures brought on by higher quantities of carbon dioxide and other GHG in the atmosphere.
To successfully mitigate the effects of climate change, we must operate at a majority net zero level. Our biggest aim is to create a sustainable future. We can only achieve this by changing our habits; for example, lessening our dependence on fossil fuels, increasing energy efficiency, offsetting unavoidable emissions, and switching to renewable energy. Beyond the environmental benefits, net zero benefits the economy, such as new job opportunities in growing sectors.
Mitigate climate change: By being net zero, we directly help to reduce harmful GHG being released into the atmosphere.
Increased use of renewable energy sources: the use of renewable energy reduces the reliance on harmful fossil fuels while also creating new job opportunities.
Improved public health: By decreasing the release of toxic gases and chemicals, we are creating a healthier, cleaner world to live in.
Economic growth: Countless new jobs are becoming available as new sectors open up and existing sectors grow to accommodate the demand for new innovations.
Reduce energy usage: By being more aware of the energy we use, we can reduce overall energy consumption, improve energy efficiency and lower energy costs!
Research developments: People are constantly looking for ways to improve and grow in this area which presents endless opportunities to research and develop new ideas and technologies, further increasing economic growth.
Increased emphasis on sustainability: The net-zero movement pushes for a more equitable and just, and sustainable society.
Preserve biodiversity: Net zero means we indirectly preserve ecosystems worldwide and promote biodiversity.
Increased resilience to climate change: We are adapting and becoming more resilient to the harmful effects of climate change by attempting to counteract the effects to ensure a more stable and secure future.
Build global relationships: Leadership in global efforts to combat climate change, strengthening international partnerships and cooperation.
Here's what the UN has to say about our progress on Net Zero: Commitments made by governments to date fall far short of what is required... Getting to net zero requires all governments – first and foremost the biggest emitters – to significantly strengthen their Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs) and take bold, immediate steps towards reducing emissions now. The Glasgow Climate Pact called on all countries to revisit and strengthen the 2030 targets in their NDCs by the end of 2022, but only 24 new or updated climate plans were submitted by September 2022." Here are some potential challenges that are causing the lack of progress:
Cost: The move to a net-zero economy demands a significant investment in new technology and infrastructure, which can be pricey. Some industries and communities may find adapting challenging since the costs of deploying new technologies outweigh their advantages.
Technical constraints: Although cost-effective renewable energy sources like wind and solar have improved recently, they still have intermittency and storage capacity issues. This implies that depending entirely on them to meet our energy demands can take time and effort.
Legal barriers: Making the move to a net-zero economy might be difficult. For instance, subsidies and tax breaks for the fossil fuel sector may deter investment in renewable energy. At the same time, a lack of resources or restrictions on carbon capture and storage may impede development.
Political will: There must be strong political will and global leadership to achieve net zero.
Social and behavioural aspects: Moving towards a net-zero economy requires considerable adjustments in consumer behaviour, such as lowering energy use and embracing low-carbon lifestyles. This can be difficult because people can resist change and may only partially see how urgent and significant the transformation is.
Net zero requires a significant amount of effort. Here are some tactics that assist in reaching net zero:
Decrease energy use: Achieving net zero depends on reducing energy use in buildings, transportation, and industry. You should adopt energy-efficient solutions such as effective insulation and other technologies.
Renewable energy: Rewewnables are a vital part of achieving net-zero status. Renewables include solar, wind and hydropower. By installing equipment such as solar panels, you can eliminate a substantial amount of emissions.
Electrifying transportation: The use of electric cars or other low-carbon transportation options reduces emissions from fossil fuels in petroleum cars.
Carbon capture and storage: Some industries should look to carbon capture and storage options to rid of their carbon emissions.
Offsetting: Offsetting is a big part of becoming net-zero and looks at emissions that cannot be eliminated at the source. Through offsetting, they counteracted by purchasing carbon credits from projects such as reforestation.
The urgency of addressing climate change has increased in recent years, fueling the growth of the net-zero movement. A lot of nations, cities, and businesses have committed to the aim of reaching net-zero emissions by 2050 or earlier. Check out Queenstown detailed biodiversity plan that aims to achieve net-zero by 2050. But the journey towards a sustainable future continues beyond reaching net zero. The net-zero movement should next concentrate on the following areas:
Decarbonising challenging industries: It is difficult to decarbonise several sectors, including heavy manufacturing, agriculture, and aviation. To overcome these challenging sectors, the net-zero movement must concentrate on creating and expanding technologies like carbon capture and storage.
Circular economy: A circular economy is one in which things are recycled and reused instead of thrown away. Implementing circular economy concepts can encourage sustainable production and consumption while lowering emissions and waste.
Fair transition: Reaching net zero can have an immense social and economic impact, especially on areas where the fossil fuel sectors are heavily reliant. Ensuring that the shift to a net-zero economy is fair and that the benefits are evenly distributed constitutes a just transition.
Nature-based solutions: Preserving and restoring natural ecosystems helps reduce erosion while preserving biodiversity, improving water quality, and absorbing and storing carbon.
In New Zealand, several businesses and organisations have committed to reaching zero emissions. Here are a few examples:
Z Energy: Z Energy, a petroleum corporation headquartered in New Zealand, has committed to achieving net-zero emissions by 2050. They are pursuing this objective by lowering their emissions, utilising more renewable energy sources, and investing in cutting-edge equipment like electric vehicle charging stations.
Air New Zealand: The national carrier of New Zealand has pledged to achieve net-zero emissions by 2050. They are pursuing this objective by lowering their greenhouse gas emissions, investing in environmentally friendly aviation fuels, and using carbon credits to offset their remaining emissions.
Check out Toitu’s carbon zero directory to see what businesses already operate a carbon zero business model!
Companies and organisations can attain net-zero emissions by using emission offsets. Offsetting entails funding activities like reforestation programmes or renewable energy projects that lower or eliminate GHG emissions from the atmosphere. These projects result in a decrease or removal of emissions, which are then recorded as credits that can be applied to a company's emissions as an offset.
For instance, if a firm invests in a project that lowers emissions by 100 tonnes and supports a project that reduces emissions by 100 tonnes in a year, the company can say that it has achieved net-zero emissions for that year. This is so that the emissions reduction brought about by the project cancels out the emissions the company produces.
It is important to remember that offsetting is not a miracle solution for the climate situation. Before compensating as a last resort, businesses and organisations must make every attempt to reduce their emissions. Additionally, since the integrity and quality of offset projects can vary greatly, it is crucial to carefully analyse and select high-quality initiatives that lead to real, verifiable carbon reductions.
Hence, balancing emissions can help companies and organisations achieve net-zero emissions. It should, however, be used in conjunction with programmes to reduce emissions at the source and with a comprehensive assessment of the effectiveness and reliability of offsetting operations.
Governments must encourage and implement a net-zero approach and lower GHG emissions. Governments can assist these objectives by executing the following policy changes:
Carbon pricing: Governments can enact a carbon pricing policy, such as a carbon tax or cap-and-trade system, such as the NZ ETS, which places a cost on greenhouse gas emissions and encourages businesses and individuals to cut their emissions.
Renewable energy: Governments may offer financial incentives, such as subsidies, tax credits, or other forms of compensation, to encourage the development and use of renewable energy sources like solar and wind power.
Transportation standards: Encouraging electric and public transportation use by investing in quality public transportation infrastructures and operations.
Regulations: Government can enact laws and set criteria for reducing a variety of sectors, including manufacturing, agriculture, and the electric utility industry.
Funding for research and development: Governments can invest in new technology research and innovative products and methods contributing to net zero movements.
Promote education: Governments can implement national education and awareness campaigns to motivate people to reduce emissions and adopt net-zero business models.
The world and human civilisation could suffer severe and long-lasting consequences if net-zero emissions are not achieved. These are a few possible outcomes:
Impacts of climate change: Continuing the emission of GHG into the atmosphere would intensify the effects of climate change, such as sea level rise, more frequent and severe weather events, and an increase in the number and severity of wildfires and droughts. Millions of people may be forced to relocate due to these effects, which will also seriously harm infrastructure and ecosystems.
Health: Significant public health effects of climate change include a rise in heat-related illnesses and the spread of vector-borne diseases like malaria and dengue fever.
Economic effects: Adapting to and reducing the impacts of climate change could be expensive, which could cause economic disruption and lost output. If we switch to a net-zero economy, we can avoid losing out on lucrative business opportunities in rapidly growing sectors like renewable energy.
Irreversible tipping points: Keeping GHG emissions at current levels could cause the Earth's climate system to tip irreversibly. For example, melting the Greenland ice sheet could result in many metres of sea level rise.
Achieving net-zero emissions is a crucial objective that calls for swift action and cooperation from all facets of society. Failure to attain net-zero emissions might harm the environment and human civilisation, including climate change, public health, the economy, geopolitical tensions, and irreversible tipping points.
But, by adopting a thorough and integrated strategy incorporating regulations, rewards, and technology advancement, we can move towards a net-zero economy and uncover a wealth of advantages for the environment and society. Businesses, governments, and individuals will need to collaborate on this and take proactive measures to cut GHG emissions, improve energy efficiency, employ renewable energy sources, and make the switch to sustainable land use and transportation methods.
The needs of vulnerable communities and workers in carbon-intensive industries must also be considered as we work towards a just and equitable transition to a net-zero economy. We can hasten the transition to a net-zero economy and ensure a sustainable future for future generations by monitoring our progress towards net-zero emissions, raising public awareness and education, and continuing to invest in research and development.
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