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Steve Terry

What is Net Zero and How Do We Get There?

May 2022


If you take a moment just to step back and evaluate things for a moment, you might be surprised by what you find. Try to shift your focus on media and what it tells us about the environment. We know that its current condition is terrible; some say very bad. We also know that we are responsible for it. 

We are consistently told that the time to act is now. If we delay, it may be too late. We are presented with time-lapsed videos of melting ice caps and told that air pollution continues to increase at a frightening rate. The World Health Organisation said in 2018 that "microscopic pollutants in the air can slip past our body’s defences, penetrating deep into our respiratory and circulatory system, damaging our lungs, heart and brain". WHO also claim that air pollution is now equivalent to the effect of smoking. 

This isn't new to us. We have become programmed to be aware of what we are doing to our planet. However, on the reverse, it could be argued that we are not programmed to know how to reverse these effects or at the very least minimise the adverse effects we have on our planet. 

We are told to do the little things. Recycle more, turning things off when we aren't using them. Then you hear the Net Zero commitments from corporations around the world. 

This blog will analyse what it means to be Net Zero, whether we can become Net Zero individually, and what it would accomplish. This blog will also discuss how individuals can try to replicate the impact of big business by becoming Net Zero themselves. 

 

When you initially hear the objective of getting to Net Zero, you might think the aim is to ultimately reduce greenhouse emissions to zero. However, scientists quickly understood this was a fallacy. There will always be emissions; now, the question is whether to limit them or actively offset them. 

Companies worldwide can offset their emissions by funding a project engineered to lower emissions. To begin, companies must purchase carbon credits equivalent to their emissions. Credits can fund a specific project that directly reduces carbon emissions. 

You can find projects around the world. One particular project offsets by planting trees across the UK and combatting deforestation in Brazil. This specific project is estimated to offset around 100,000 tCO2e of carbon emissions per year. These projects are widely available and act as a prideful form of Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR). 

The term Net-Zero often overshadows decarbonisation. Decarbonisation, meaning carbon reduction, can involve sourcing cleaner fuels, reducing waste, and improving efficiency. Decarbonisation is a structured way to achieve Net-Zero. It can bring energy savings, fewer accidents, reduced congestion, and reduced air pollution if completed correctly.

Challenges arise primarily in cost. In light of the past few years, companies are sceptical about investing generally, never mind into a net-zero plan. Being able to control emissions can only go so far. Companies who undertake the process of reaching Net-Zero can find that a large proportion of their emissions originate from their supply chain. Implementing a green supply chain can be troublesome and require a complete overhaul. However, the results can be wildly beneficial for the environment and its business. Once a greener supply chain is established, companies will reap the longer-term benefits such as reduced waste and expenditure.

Debates have dominated scientific journals on encouraging a more progressive corporate attitude towards decarbonisation. Some have cited a Global Carbon Tax as a revolutionary device to ignite a more robust incentive in becoming Net-Zero. Alice Pirlot, a Research Fellow at Oxford University Centre for Business Taxation, believes the tax forms the "most straightforward and ambitious approach... bring[ing] an important shift in the approach to climate mitigation that has prevailed in international climate change law to date"

Due primarily to geographic and economic differences, a global carbon tax is yet to be realised. Research by the Center for Global Development concluded that 63% of carbon emissions come from developing countries. For years, the focus in these countries has been economic growth. However, this has come at the price of carbon emissions. 

Progress would not be denied; alternate renewable and sustainable sources of power are receiving surging interest. Wind energy and solar energy are becoming an economic possibility for companies around the globe. 

But how about environmentally conscious individuals? Can they achieve Net-Zero by themselves? Yes and no. 

Achieving Net-Zero status is a two-fold process. Firstly, reduce carbon emissions, and secondly, offset your carbon emissions through environmentally positive projects. 

If motivated and informed, anyone can successfully reduce their carbon emissions. Incorporating solar panels, geothermal heating, electric cars or public transport all help minimise emissions in your lifestyle. You can go even further by becoming a practitioner of zero waste, a lifestyle that integrates environmentally sourced, friendly and non-wasteful products. For example, you could use a bamboo toothbrush and organic paste instead of a traditional toothbrush.  

It may sound formulaic, but all the little things do add up. Some people have completely cut out any use of carbon in their lives. This comes with a considerable sacrifice. Renewably sourced products can be substantially more expensive than ordinarily sourced items. However, benefits will become abundantly clear in the long term. Solar Panels can save you a lot of money on your energy bills. Renewably sourced organic products can offer better quality, and cutting car usage for less carbon reliant transport (i.e. bikes) can be a gateway to a healthier lifestyle. All in all, the sacrifice is worth it. 

We've all made sacrifices over the past couple of years with what's been thrown at us. This one could be the most important of them all. 


Stay safe,

Steve Terry, Managing Director, Astutis.

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