Since the Paris Agreement of 2015 and the IPCC special report that followed, 70 countries have chosen a net-zero target in accordance with the Net Zero coalition. Thankfully, some of the globe’s most prolific carbon producers are among them, including the United States, China, and the European Union. Meanwhile, however, global temperatures have reached an increase of 1.3C, leaving little time for countries to accomplish what is necessary to maintain the 1.5-degree limit. This also makes achieving net zero without a doubt the biggest challenge of our lifetime. As stipulated in the Coalition, by the time COP28 commences in November 2023, the participating parties must develop a roadmap outlining how they plan to achieve this paramount goal.
The 27th Conference of the Parties (COP27), held in Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt in November 2022, was for the most part a productive and purposeful meeting. The landmark agreement to establish an international fund to assist the most vulnerable nations affected by climate change certainly made an impression on the global community. While this is great news, little was said in regard to one of the most important topics of the COP: the 1.5-degree limit.
Many experts agree that if the 197 countries involved in the Paris Agreement ever hope to achieve their goal of limiting global temperature increases to 1.5 degrees over the next decade, then serious steps need to be taken immediately, the kind of steps that involve big changes from the top-down.
Thankfully, there are already initiatives in place to limit the global temperature increase. For those who don’t know, the Net Zero initiative started with the adoption of the Paris Agreement and the release of the IPCC special report on global warming in 2015. Since then, those countries that signed on to the agreement are required to have a reduction in emissions equivalent to 45% by 2030, and country-wide net-zero emissions by 2050.
But what does “Net-Zero” even mean?
Net Zero: Why Is It So Important?
The official UN website defines net zero as “cutting greenhouse gas emissions to as close to zero as possible, with any remaining emissions re-absorbed from the atmosphere.”
To clarify, this essentially means that the amount of greenhouse gas emissions released is equivalent to the amount absorbed. The phenomena of reabsorption can occur through several pathways, but some of the more common routes are via large bodies of water, or forests, for example. In addition, the term “net-zero” is not to be confused with carbon neutral, which refers only to carbon emissions, and nothing else.
Since the early 1800s, when the industrial revolution first began, temperatures have increased by 1.3C; this means we have only 0.2C left. As anyone can see, the window of opportunity has unfortunately been shrinking faster than we can keep up, and many experts are worried that the 1.5-degree goal is nearly out of reach.
Because of this, achieving net-zero emissions should now be a goal of extreme concern for every country involved in the Paris-agreement, even more so than it was before.
What Are Countries Doing to Reduce their Emissions?
Thankfully, some countries are taking their net-zero goals seriously, pushing for more and more initiatives to slash national emissions. For example, the United States and 18 other countries have committed to achieving net-zero emissions for all government operations by no later than 2050. The commitment also stipulates that the participating countries must develop a roadmap by COP28 which outlines how they plan on meeting their goal.
In total, there are 70 countries – including the largest polluters such as China, the European Union, and the United States – that have chosen a net-zero target and are participating in the net-zero coalition. Their targets are reported to cover as much as 76% of the entire globe’s emissions.
The private sector has also been asked to step up to the plate. More than 3,000 businesses and institutions have set what is known as science-based targets (a clearly-defined pathway for companies to reduce greenhouse gas emissions that is by the scale required to achieve the Paris-agreement temperature standard). In addition, 1,000 cities, 400 financial institutions, and 1,000 educational institutions are all participating in the Race to Zero, an UN-supported global initiative asking companies, cities, regions, and financial and educational institutions to take “rigorous and immediate action” to reduce global emissions by 50%. To make things even more exciting, they plan on reaching their goal by as early as 2030.
If the private sector wants to speed up its emissions reductions, they also have the opportunity to turn towards the voluntary carbon market (VCM), a tool that enables investors, governments, non-governmental organisations, and businesses the ability to fund natural climate solutions by purchasing carbon credits. The carbon credit purchased acts as a verified emissions reduction, which can then be used towards the achievement of their emissions reduction goals.
Though the VCM has been around since the early 1990s, it has gained significant popularity as of late due to increasingly restrictive government mandates surrounding the emissions output of companies. Now that these rules are in place, companies are finding ways to offset their emissions by purchasing the emissions reductions (known as natural climate solutions) that others have achieved.
According to recent research, these natural climate solutions are not to be ignored and could account for a third of the emissions reductions required by 2030.
Colossal Change Needed
Though the 1.5C limit is approaching, so much so that many are arguing that it will likely be unachievable, there are still experts who believe that if colossal changes are made now, the increase could still be kept at bay. That being said, numbers show that a reduction of at least 45% of emissions would be required over the next 10 years to accomplish such a goal.
The 1.5C goal “is on life support, and the machines are rattling,” said U.N. Secretary-General António Guterres during the opening ceremony of the conference in Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt. “We are getting dangerously close to the point of no return.”
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