Clarifying 'net-zero'

Following workshops and a survey in November, IEMA’s Climate Change steering group has been considering the landscape around terms such as ‘net-zero’. 

Confusion arises when the term is used synonymously with ‘carbon neutral’. Is it, or can it be, the same? Where do other concepts such as ‘climate positive’ or ‘carbon negative’ fit in? 

Carbon neutrality can be sought either now or in the very short term, using standards such as BSI PAS 2060 Carbon Neutrality. In this approach, reductions are required and offsetting is used on residual emissions. Neutrality is therefore an immediate or early commitment that can kick a strategic medium-term (science-based) approach towards net-zero or, if possible, zero-carbon. The idea of long-term is removed. IEMA itself has adopted this approach, committing to the UNFCCC Climate Neutral Now while also committing to further transition to drive out our emissions.   

In responding to the climate emergency, all tools and approaches have a role to play. However, feedback from professionals has indicated that a distinction between net-zero and carbon neutrality will be helpful and will be included within IEMA’s revised GHG Management Hierarchy when it is published this year. Internationally, the language and terminology is even more extensive, with climate positive approaches developing in Sweden from companies such as GodEl and Max Burgers. Large corporates are also pioneering new and sometimes diverse approaches (for example Microsoft’s pledge to be carbon negative by 2030). Work is now starting on a new ISO standard on carbon neutrality, which can help provide clarity on the terms involved and ultimately increase climate action across businesses and organisations globally.

Image credit | iStock


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