Countries and companies around the world are talking about their climate benchmarks, pledging to achieve ‘net’ carbon emissions or become ‘carbon neutral’ over the next decades. But when we go into detail, these promises rarely keep their promises.
Christopher Gregg, Principal Investigator at the Endlinger Center for Energy and the Environment, explains: “I think there is growing momentum behind real commitments to achieve net zero. I think besides that, there is always a feeling of brainwashing. There is an element. »Princeton University. “There are people who are essentially forced to make these commitments under pressure from shareholders. “
America aims to move towards net zero emissions by 2050. China’s target is the same in the 1960s. One-fifth of the world’s 2000 largest state-owned enterprises have pledged to achieve the net zero target , according to a new report from the British association Energy and Climate. Intelligence Unit (ECIU). Visa, AstraZeneca and Alaska Airlines plan to eliminate carbon emissions by at least 2040, while other companies such as Apple have pledged to build a 100% neutral supply chain and products by carbon by 2030.
Unfortunately, there are no standard guidelines for achieving net zero or carbon neutral emissions. This means that companies and countries can create their own definitions.
Companies that commit to being carbon neutral do not necessarily promise to remove CO2 from their operations. Instead, they can support environmental projects that will offset their own emissions. Examples are the carbon offsets of groups that install renewable energy, plant and protect trees, or provide other means of cleaning the atmosphere.
These plans are not necessarily realistic or useful. For example, there is little space around the earth to plant trees. A recent Oxfam report calculated that the total area needed for the planned carbon phase-out could be five times the size of India, or the equivalent of all the agricultural land on the planet.
Voluntary Carbon Market Integrity Initiative Research shows that offsets of less than 5% actually remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere.
“Without a scientific basis and without a real path to net zero … some of the effects of these exchanges, or of these commitments, may simply be unrealistic,” explains Rachel Kayte, UN Secretary General and the Dean’s climate advisor. from the Fletcher School at Tufts University.
So what should businesses do to avoid empty green promises? “A company should be able to measure and verify its emissions both within its own operations, but also upstream and downstream of its operations,” explains Greg. “And it has to be able to measure, verify and show the outside world how it is working against those goals.”
The answer is not simple and will require resources and complex accounting. But many argue that these measures are necessary to reduce the risk of catastrophic climate change becoming inevitable.