Explained: What Does “Net-Zero Emissions” Mean?

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The world was placed at a crossroads when it became clear that our actions were harming our planet. It did not take long for our best scientists to let us know that if we did not reach net-zero emissions by around the mid-point of this century, we were going to be in serious trouble, but what exactly are net-zero emissions, and what do we have to do to get there?


What do we Mean by Net-Zero Emissions?

To understand net-zero emissions, you must think of it as a target. This target can only be reached when any human-based greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions are balanced by removing any GHGs from the atmosphere. If you need a better understanding of Net-Zero Emissions, think of it as a form of climate neutrality. This means that all the damage that we are doing to our atmosphere is being countered by taking actions to cleanse our planet, such as forest restoration, but this may not still be enough, so we need to make sure that all our human-caused GHG emissions — such as those resulting from burning fossil fuels — are as close to zero as possible.


Our planet reacts quite strongly to just little changes in the amount of carbon dioxide and other GHGs in our atmosphere. You can think of it as Earth being allergic to some of these gases, and her body retaliates strongly whenever we shift the balance in the atmosphere. This is why there has been such a strong push to reach this target as quickly as possible because the later it is reached, the more effort we would need to put in to save the planet.


What can we Do to Achieve Net-Zero Emissions?

The truth is that because climate change is a global problem, reaching net-zero emissions would require a huge amount of global effort. It has been suggested that if climate neutrality is to be reached, then renewable sources of energy such as solar energy would need to make up 70-85% of all the global supply by 2050. Achieving this would only be one of the first steps to reduce emissions. If we are to reach net-zero emissions, we must also increase the efficiency of our food production, stop all deforestation, and restore degraded lands. On a personal level, you should consider changing your dietary choices and reduce the amount of food that you waste.


If you are interested in net-zero emissions, then you may also want to learn about carbon removal. Scientists understand that to get emissions to zero in sectors such as aviation is near impossible with our current technology, so we must compensate for their emissions by ensuring that we reduce the amount of carbon dioxide. This has led to the creation of new forms of technology such as Direct Air Capture (DAC), which you may find interesting. With DAC technologies, we can now capture carbon dioxide straight from the ambient air.


These may seem like a huge task, but we have been making great leaps. Solar and wind power are now the cheapest power sources for 67% of the world and different countries are finding new ways to either adapt or shift their grids completely to renewable sources of energy. Here are 10 key solutions that have been proposed by the World Resources Institute (WRI) that would further help in reaching net-zero emissions:


  1. Phase-out coal plants.
  2. Invest in clean and efficient energy.
  3. Retrofit buildings.
  4. Decarbonize cement, steel, and plastics.
  5. Shift to electric vehicles.
  6. Increase public transport.
  7. Decarbonize aviation and shipping.
  8. Halt deforestation and restore degraded lands.
  9. Reduce food waste and loss.
  10. Eat more plants and less meat.

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