DEEPTI’S RESEARCH DISPATCH

“Net Zero” is Not a Slogan

It’s a goal that’s essential but not enough. Research Tidbit #9

Deepti Kannapan
8 min readAug 8, 2022

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Photo by Alejandro Piñero Amerio on Unsplash

You may have heard the phrase ‘net-zero’ in the context of climate action. I came across it when as a part of my reading project on sustainability and climate. When a country, company or other entity pledges net-zero greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, it means the amount of GHG they put into the atmosphere will be balanced by the amount they remove.

This is an important milestone to achieve, because once we stabilize the amount of GHG in the atmosphere, the global temperature stops rising.

Net-zero is a simple mathematical concept that just means
(amount put in) = (amount taken out).

The amounts in question could refer to liquids in a pipe, energy in a machine, money in a business, sand in an hourglass, or anything else. The phrase shows up in all sorts of fields of study.

However, in the concept of climate action, ‘net zero’ has become a rallying cry, an advertising slogan, and an object of criticism.

Pledging net-zero by 2050 is a popular goal

As I wrote previously, there are a number of climate-related deadlines for emissions reductions.

As a species, reaching net zero CO2 emissions by 2050 is one of the necessary steps identified to limit global temperature increase to 1.5 degrees C. (This goal is rooted in science from 2021. There is some debate on whether the goal of limiting warming to 1.5 C is still feasible, but even if we aim for the next-best feasible temperature, there will be a roughly mid-century deadline for reaching net zero.)

So, individual companies, countries, and other entities pledged that they would do their part in this species-wide goal, zeroing out their individual contribution to GHG emissions.

Stefan Reichelstein, a professor emeritus who studies carbon accounting at Stanford Graduate School of Business, describes how pledging net-zero turned into a high-profile corporate bandwagon in this article:

The press reported that some progressive firms were taking climate change…

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Deepti Kannapan

Painter, occasional cartoonist, aerospace engineer. Writes about sustainable technology, creativity, and journaling.