Net-Zero-Emissions: When, why, who?


One thing is clear, the global climate is warming too fast and there is an urgent need for action. Back in 2015, 195, United Nations member states committed to limiting global warming and signed a new climate treaty at the international COP21 climate conference in Paris. This legally binding agreement contains three key elements and recommends reducing greenhouse gases worldwide to 0 by 2050 as part of the sustainable development agenda. Its corresponding 17 SDGs and their targets are the defined means to encourage durable solutions for common challenges.

1. Cooldown

The Paris Climate Agreement integrates recent scientific findings related to the consequences of continued global warming. It is the first universal and legally binding climate treaty that guides decision-makers on how to transition from a critical present to a climate-friendly future. According to the agreement, the primary goal is to reduce greenhouse gas emissions to limit the global temperature increase to a maximum of 1.5°C in the coming years. This corresponds with SDG 13's call to climate action and goes hand in hand with the demand to states and industry to financially guarantee the ability to adapt to changing climate conditions.

2. Trust is good, control is better

The signatory states and parties (the EU, as a confederation of states, is also a member) commit to report on their reduction targets every five years and to explain details contained therein to their other colleagues. In addition to this so-called "Nationally Determined Contribution," nations are obliged to replace previous targets with more ambitious ones.

3. As strong as the weakest link

The sustainable development agenda seeks to "leave no one behind." That is why the Paris Agreement recognizes financial assistance to developing countries is particularly important. It was initially agreed to provide poorer countries with $100 billion annually by 2020 with the objective to help them mitigate the effects of adverse climate change and strengthen their resilience. Furthermore, developing countries are also to receive technical support.

Much remains to be done! Fortunately, there is a new awareness, accompanied by a common will to master the climate crisis. But how?

Net Zero Emissions

To meet the ambitious goals of the Paris Agreement, nearly all signatories have agreed to a Net-Zero-Emissions strategy in 2019. Let's start at the end:

Zero Emissions

Remember, the global climate may continue to warm by no more than 1.5°C. Thanks to scientific calculations, we now know that this goal can only be achieved by globally reducing greenhouse gas emissions (primarily CO2) to 55% by 2030 and reducing them to 0% by 2050. Crazy facts aren't they! Now is the time to bid non-renewable sources goodbye. We must phase out "dirty" energy such as coal, oil, gas, or nuclear power and switch to renewables like solar, wind, or hydropower. In practical terms, this implies to heat less, heat in a more environmentally friendly way, insulating buildings better, promote electrically powered mobility instead of combustion engines. Particularly important is the requirement to equip industrial plants with modern technology. It should be noted that there is no such thing as "the climate villain" or "the climate witch. Climate change, like many other realities, is complex; many sectors emit greenhouse gases and a variety of solutions will continue to be needed on the path to a climate-neutral global economy, i.e., green economies.

How does the Net fit in?

Simply put, the Net-Zero-Emissions approach connotes that the amount of CO2 emitted into the atmosphere must be equal to the amount which is absorbed from it.

emitted greenhouse gas + absorbed greenhouse gas = 0 emissions (positive) + absorptions (negative) = 0

In recent years, several impressive technologies have been developed, allowing certain industries to operate carbon neutral (run their factories without emitting harmful greenhouse gases). This doesn't apply to all industries; adequate technologies are yet to be developed for some sectors. Such include agriculture, aviation and steel production. The latter will not succeed in switching to renewable energies entirely, i.e., operating in a climate-neutral manner, by 2050. The Net-Zero-Emissions approach acknowledges this fact by commanding additional efforts to capture emissions from the atmosphere emitted by lagging industries and, therefore, compensate for them. Planting trees (photosynthesis) and developing technologies capable of carbon capture and storage are essential in this regard. In other words, CO2 absorbing mechanisms are "artificially" activated to neutralize the remaining greenhouse gases and ensure that the equation adds up after all.

Who, how, what?

Political will expressed in appropriate legislation is a key success factor for the energy transition. These regulations and principles must favor environmentally friendly industries while not adversely affecting incentives for the private industry to switch. The public sector (government) is required to pull in the same direction as the private sector (industry) and vice versa. Meanwhile, the importance of research and development is undisputed. In order to meet the demand for new technologies in the near future, synergies must be used in partnership while making sufficient funds available. Of course, our individual contributions remain relevant. Any action for a better climate is better than none: "If you think you are too small to make a difference, try sleeping with a mosquito in your room" [Dalai Lama].

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