Navigating the nuances of net-zero targets

By Climate Champions, Data-Driven EnviroLab & NewClimate Institute | October 22, 2020

As of October 2020, actors with net-zero targets (either economy- or companywide, or for a specific sector) cover at least 1,565 companies, 826 cities, and 103 regions across all continents. In total, they represent over 880 million residents, 24.9 million employees, and 10 gigatonnes of greenhouse gas emissions.

Yet the meaning of ‘net zero’ varies across these different actors, as some target the direct reduction of emissions, while others claim neutralisation of emissions through offsetting or utilize carbon dioxide removal. Nuances in the specific details of those implementation approaches determine whether net-zero targets really contribute to deep decarbonisation, or produce any impact at all.

These significant nuances in target implementation approaches have implications for the additionality of impact, the integrity of a claimed outcome, and the extent to which the approaches actively support or hinder problem-solving efforts for the most difficult challenges of deep decarbonisation.

Transparency on the nuances of net-zero targets not only enables us to better understand actors’ ambition, but also should be recognised as a tool in itself to increase ambition by facilitating accountability and constructive dialogues on challenges faced. Ambitious actors, critical observers, and concerned citizens and consumers should recognise that constructive transparency can be far more ambitious and solution-oriented than net-zero claims that are based on opaque accounting approaches.

Guidance and encouragement for actors to set targets should include a greater consideration of these nuances, to better enable the identification of truly ambitious actors and enhance support towards them.

Ten basic criteria for net-zero target transparency. Source: NewClimate, 2020.

You can read the full report here.

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