The world is making pledges around the clock, raising climate change ambitions, and claiming to get to net zero emissions by 2050. The wave of countries, government institutions, and corporations committing to neutralize greenhouse gases in order to avoid the worst effects of climate change is exponential.
137 countries have said they will be carbon neutral by 2050 including The US, Canada, The EU, and the UK. Nearly half of global assets under management pledged net zero and a fifth of the world’s largest companies also made this commitment.
Genuine Commitments Or Greenwashing?
However, there is a big setback when it comes to living up to those commitments. There is no guarantee these pledges will be fulfilled as unfortunately, there are not even standard guidelines for achieving net zero or carbon neutral emissions. Companies and countries are free to create their own definitions and make up their own ways to reach net zero.
“I think there’s increasing momentum behind genuine commitments to getting to net zero. I think along with that, there’s always going to be some element of brainwashing…There are people who are basically being forced into making these commitments by shareholder pressure,” explains Christopher Greig, senior research scientist at the Andlinger Center for Energy and the Environment at Princeton University.
This Is How To Get To Net Zero
Finding a way to get to carbon neutrality or net zero is not an easy task either. Purchasing carbon offsets from voluntary carbon markets are one way to go. However, according to research from the Voluntary Carbon Markets Integrity Initiative, less than 5% of offsets actually remove CO2 from the atmosphere.
As per another research of California’s forest carbon offsets program – the largest one in existence valued at more than $2 billion, 29% of the offsets are over-credited. That means 30 million tons of CO2 equivalent are allowed to continue entering the atmosphere instead of being effectively offset.
Via carbon offsets, companies do not remove the emissions from their activities but rather compensate by saving emissions from other places through different projects. Such projects could be installing renewable energy, planting, or protecting forests.
Long-term, these methods could be unrealistic and difficult to be carried out. There is only so much space around the earth to plant trees – it has been calculated that the total land required for planned carbon removal could be five times the size of India or the equivalent of all farmland on the planet.
The conclusion is, as explained by Rachel Kyte, a climate adviser for the U.N. secretary-general: “Without a scientific basis, and a true pathway to net zero… some of the effects of these trades, or these commitments, might be simply unrealizable.”
Reaching net zero is not a simple task, however, governments and scientists need to come together to set out unified net zero pathways and guidelines for those willing to commit to the pledge. Without a measurable and verifiable system for getting to carbon neutrality, there is a risk of unfulfilling those commitments while also wasting public and private investments.