Confused by climate jargon? We have a quick explainer on all you need to know about going net-zero.
Why do we need to reach Net-Zero Emissions?
Scientists have been warning of the threat of climate change for some time now, with the IPCC’s latest report warning of a Code Red for humanity. The projections made by climate modelling projections for weather events in 70-100 years are sadly now our present reality — the future is here, we are standing slap bang in the middle of it, and we have no place to hide.
Under the 2015 Paris Agreement, countries agreed to limit warming well below 2 degrees C, and ideally 1.5 degrees C — deemed the best degree of concern for a safe threshold of change.
Climate impacts are already unfolding globally, as we have reached 1.2 degrees C (2 degrees F) of warming since the 19th century. We have seen melting ice, melting Arctic tundra, heat domes, intense cyclones, and wildfires that are earlier, bigger, and hotter than usual. We currently see extreme weather events across the globe from flooding in Oman, monsoon-level rainfall in Mumbai to the fierce snow and winds of the UK’s storm Arwen. These events will have unprecedented impacts on our food and water supplies as well as on our health. The same applies to all living things we share the planet with.
This shows the urgency we need, in minimizing temperature increase to no more than 1.5 degrees, as we do have technically and economically feasible emissions pathways to achieve this.
Where are we now?
The pledges that came from the COP26 climate conference commit us to 2.4 C of warming, and if we continue with a business as usual approach to the climate crisis, this puts us on a pathway of 3-4 degrees If the carbon feedback loops are strong, we could theoretically reach this as early as the 2060s.
And this does not look pretty. A 4°C of warming represents a potentially catastrophic scenario, with 40–70% of global species would be at risk, extreme heat, extreme water scarcity, extreme levels of migration, in fact, extreme everything. Also, we have the possibility of significant releases of carbon dioxide and methane from ocean hydrates and permafrost, which would amplify global warming as a feedback loop. So we shouldn’t reach this scenario.
What exactly is net-zero?
‘Net zero‘ refers to achieving a balance between the amount of greenhouse gas produced and the amount removed from the atmosphere. We reach net zero when the amount we add is no more than the amount taken away.
Many people think that success equals reaching net zero by 2050. Unfortunately, it is not as simple as that. What is more important to consider, is how much carbon we emit along the way. If we take too long to commence rapid emission reductions, we could easily blow our remaining carbon budget, – estimates of how much CO2 we can emit and still limit global average temperature rise to no more than 1.5°C and we are already close to blowing our carbon budget. (For a short explainer on using up our 1.5 carbon budget by the end of 2021 see this animation by Carbon Brief.)
So we need to see global greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions drop by a challenging 50% by 2030 if the net-zero target is to mean anything.
Another problem is that we probably need to do significantly better than that. The Government plans make assumptions that we will be using Negative Emissions Technology to suck an amazing 59 million tonnes of CO2 per annum out of the air every year, by 2050. The problem is, this technology is not proven yet, and is certainly not at the large scale of rapid deployment needed.
Once we reach net-zero, our next major climate milestone is called Drawdown — the point in the future when levels of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere stop climbing and start to steadily decline, thereby stopping catastrophic climate change.
But even if man-made emissions were to drop to zero tomorrow, it would take about a decade to detect a slowdown of concentrations against the background of the natural carbon cycle. And even with zero emissions, getting back to pre-industrial levels of 280 ppm is still a 10,000-year plan.
The surface of the ocean will take up a good chunk of the excess carbon in the air, and cause atmospheric concentrations to drop relatively quickly at first, this would take @ 100 years. Some atmospheric carbon would work its way into the deeper ocean, this would take @ 1,000 years. Then the planet’s carbon cycle, for example, the weathering of rocks, would soak up most of the rest over about 10,000 years – which is approximately 130 lifespans.
How can my business make a difference ?
Consider supporting the Climate & Ecological Emergency Bill – Naturesave are campaigning with Zero Hour, the team behind the proposed bill. We believe that supporting this private members bill is the best way to tackle the climate and nature crisis. It requires our MP’s to work, cross party, alongside the public and agree equitable solutions that follow the science. The bill has backing from 118 MPs, and 39 Peers. We are hoping that more businesses will come forward and support the bill. This is an action that your business can take today, that will make a real difference.
Declare a climate emergency and join Business Declares – This community of like minded business are aiming to raise awareness across the business sector of the imperative to accelerate action to address climate change, biodiversity loss and social injustice.
IF you are a Naturesave commercial insurance customer, you may be eligible for an Environmental Performance Review. Funded by our charity, The Naturesave Trust, this free consultation process conducted in accordance with Bioregional’s One Planet Living, will give you bespoke guidance on how to make your business more sustainable. Contact us now to see if you are eligible.