What does Net Zero mean?

Last week I went to see Owen Hewlett from Gold Standard talking about what Net Zero actually means using a base of science based targets.

Owen is keen on a combination of science based targets, transparency and peer/consumer pressure to create effective climate action. In addition, there is the notion of a ‘just transition’, so not leaving people behind and linking climate action with poverty reduction.

Science Based Targets
Image result for net zero

A big blocker, in his view, is the thorny issue of ‘who pays’.

In this respect there was a lively debate around the role of trading of allowances (article 6 of Paris) and offsetting (article 9). I asked Owen about this afterwards, he advocates the latter over the former. Basically, the idea is to reduce your own emissions in line with the science, and then to offset the rest through properly accredited schemes.

He illustrated this by a lovely analogy: imagine a street where you ask everyone to clean their yard. Emissions trading is where one person leaves their yard dirty but pays for a yard to be cleaned in another street (allowance trading) – end result – you still have one dirty yard. By contrast, the scheme he recommends is that everyone cleans up their yard to an appropriate standard and then helps others (in different streets perhaps) clean up their yard (the offset approach).

Owen is keen on offset projects in developing nations, particularly ones that accelerate policy – for example a switch to renewable energy in Africa. Soil health is apparently a particularly good area to fund. (acknowledged by the CCC report on Land Use in the UK). A subtle point I had overlooked is that for local authorities, sequestration and tree planting within your area is genuinely part of your science based targets and not counted as offsetting.

I also asked Owen’s opinion on Carbon Pricing (championed by many economists) – he made the obvious but oft-ignored point that carbon pricing needs to be higher than the cost of reducing your emissions.

What does this mean for companies?

The idea is to fully bring down Scope 1 and Scope 2 emissions  in line with the science. Now for Scope 3 emissions, some of it may be outside a company’s control, but there is much that can be done through, for example, procurement decisions (some companies have great leverage here – for example apparently Danone buys from just about every farm in France!). There are around 20 categories of scope 3 – and some are addressable.

For those scope 3 emissions that are genuinely beyond a company’s control, offset as above.

For some companies, this might mean a fundamental change to their business model.

What does this mean for individuals?

Owen suggests using something like the WWW carbon calculator to calculate your own emissions. (or to look at ‘how many planets’ we need or to calculate your own ‘overshoot day’ you could try the Global Footprint Network)

… the above figure would suggest I have some work to do! (a no fly pledge perhaps – my footprint dominated by 2 long haul flights in 2019)

Owen advocates reducing your own emissions to ‘one planet’ worth (I am not sure what that level is, possibly around 6 tonnes according to Shrink That Footprint): UPDATE wwf allows the UK average ie 10.5 tonnes and that’s a somewhat easier target) and then offset the rest (by funding, for example, Plan Vivo projects).

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