There's lots of claims about net zero* and carbon neutral* this and that out in the world. But how many of them really remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere?
The answer is, as lots of things, "it depends"!
How much carbon removal is in Net Zero?
For true science-backed net zero claims, the amount of carbon dioxide removal (CDR for short) should be a low perecentage. Somewhere around or less than 10%.
The main bulk, about 90%, comes from reducing emissions through decarbonizing* everything - meaning stopping pumping out new carbon as much as possible. For net zero, the short term goal would be about 50% reductions by 2030 and then 90% by 2040 or 2050.
So, when I see an organization say that they'll be Net Zero by 2035 that means they'll be 95% decarbonized by then, right?
Sadly no. That's not currently the case. The 90 to 95% definition that includes all Scopes 1, 2 and 3 has only recently been agreed.
Prior to then net zero by any future date could mean a much smaller percentage decarbonized. With high amounts of varying quality avoidance offsets used.
We’ve seen net zero claims with as low as 20 to 30% decarbonized and using a load of avoidance offsetting* omeasures! This gives an organization a lot of room to continue to emit greenhouse gases into the atmosphere. It is counter productive in tackling The Climate Crisis and limiting heating to 1.5 degrees.
It's good to see the definition is now in line with the science of 90%+ reduction of emissions, combined with about 10% removal.
How's that different to Carbon Neutral?
You can be considered carbon neutral at the point a company has measured its carbon footprint they then buy avoidance* offsets* for the same amount of CO2e*. It often only includes Scopes 1 and 2*, so misses a large chunk of emissions from Scope 3* (which are usually more than 70% of the total).
In comparison, science-backed, real, net zero includes all Scopes 1-3 emissions.
Becoming carbon neutral is a good first step. But, on its own, it is not a path to limiting climate change, nor a place to rest for an organization aiming to play their part.
The top level test for us is, “if all companies were carbon neutral would we have stopped climate change?”
The answer is, right now, is a big nope!
To be carbon neutral, no decarbonization or emissions reductions needs to take place. The offsets can be anything that’s available in the . They don’t need to be CDR (but they could be if they chose to invest in it).
Maybe this will change. Here's hopin'.
The rule of thumb for both net zero and carbon neutral claims is: the small print matters.
Want to go deeper? Great! We've got just the thing...
Join our new, It starts every Monday. This is what's in it:
Day 1 - Why is carbon removal important & its role
Day 2 - What is (& isn’t) carbon removal
Day 3 - Growing CDR + how to remove your emissions
Whether you're an interested human just wanting to learn more, or if you work for a company looking into CDR, there's something in there for you.
Not sure what's more important - reductions or removals? Read this.
Have hope, make progress! 💚
Net zero - a science-backed starget to stop producing Greenhouse Gases from human activity by 2050. It combines reducing, removing as well as offsetting hard to eliminate emissions. Also called Net-zero 2050
Carbon Neutral - making or resulting in no net release of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, likely using offsetting rather than fully decarbonized for Scope 1 and 2 emissions. Probably doesn't include emissions from Scope 3 sources
Carbon Removal (CDR) - the process of taking CO2 out of the atmosphere and storing it somewhere safely where it can't contribute to global warming and climate change
Decarbonize - disconnect all the things humanity does from creating carbon emissions. The process to stop emitting Carbon Dioxide into the atmosphere
CO2e - short for Carbon Dioxide and Equivalents - bundle of main greenhouse gases - carbon dioxide, methane & nitrous oxide. Abrev. CO2e. See also: Global Warming Potential
Offsets / offsetting - buying parts of carbon avoiding, reducing or removing projects that avoid or remove emissions to reduce your own footprint
Avoidance Offsets - projects that generate carbon credits as they do not emit carbon, thereby avoiding emissions in theory. For example solar power plants, EV car companies and landfill gas capture among others. Avoidance offsets can be used to offset emissions, even if no reduction or removal has taken place
Scope 1, 2, 3 - a framework for measuring different types of emissions by organisations
Scope 1 - emissions from a companies own operations
Scope 2 - emissions from bought services, like electricity
Scope 3 - emissions from everything else, including supply chain, employees and use of a product (often between 70 to 95% of a companies total emissions)
Voluntary Carbon Market - VCM for short - catch-all phrase for the voluntary purchase of carbon credits and the open market for them. In contrast to legally enforced, compliance carbon markets, there is often limited or no legislative requirement for organizations to purchase credits