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Net Zero, Carbon Offsetting, and Paying to Pollute

 

Net zero refers to a state of carbon neutrality, where an entity reduces its carbon footprint to zero, either through emissions reduction, carbon offsetting, or both. The concept has become a key feature in many countries’ and organisations’ responses to climate change since the 2015 Paris Agreement. The Agreement states that in order to prevent the catastrophic consequences of climate change, we must limit global warming to well below 2°C, compared to pre-industrial temperatures. Achievement of this requires a rapid reduction of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions to allow for a balance between GHG emissions and removals, i.e. net zero emissions, preferably by 2050. Almost 200 parties were signatories to the agreement, with many more organisations and businesses also committing themselves to the targets.

 

Achieving Net Zero Emissions

As mentioned previously, achieving net zero emissions can be done through emissions reduction, carbon offsetting, or both. In an ideal world, reducing emissions to zero exclusively through utilising carbon-free technologies would be the standard for achieving carbon neutrality. However, considering the limiting feasibility this holds for the majority of nations and entities, the reality is that the majority of net zero pledges involve a significant amount of carbon offsetting.

Carbon offsetting refers to the process of compensating for one’s own carbon emissions by investing in projects which either absorb carbon dioxide or prevent it from being produced in the future. When utilised correctly, carbon offsetting is a brilliant tool for achieving net zero emissions and mitigating global warming; however, this is not always the case.

Consider this example. In 2019, company 1 and company 2 both produced 50 tonnes of carbon dioxide through their operations. Throughout 2020, company 1 implemented an array of footprint reducing measures including installing solar panels, exchanging business travel for online meetings, and switching their old cooling system for a greener model. Due to company 1’s carbon reduction measures, they produced only 10 tonnes of carbon dioxide in 2020. The company then paid £100 to offset these emissions, therefore achieving net zero emissions for the year of 2020. Contrastingly company 2 refused to make any operational changes in 2020 and consequently, their carbon footprint remained the same as the previous year, 50 tonnes. The company then paid £500 to offset these emissions, therefore also achieving net zero emissions for the year of 2020.

Company 2 did what many people refer to as “paying to pollute”; they made no changes to their operations but paid for carbon offsets to achieve net zero emissions. Besides from missing the point of net zero, the massive problem with this method is that carbon offsets can take years to actually provide carbon dioxide reductions. The returns from carbon offsetting are often far from instant, for example, estimates suggest that the amount of time it takes for one tree to offset a tonne of carbon dioxide is 100 years, or its entire lifetime. Considering the importance of achieving net zero emissions by 2050, our planet simply does not have the time to wait for these offsets to deliver.

Contrastingly to company 2’s unethical methods for achieving net zero, company 1 followed what many consider the key rule in carbon neutrality, “reduce what you can then offset what you can’t”. This idea is paramount to achieving net zero the right way and therefore playing a significant role in the reduction of global warming. As a rule of thumb, organisations are recommended to aim for an 80% reduction in emissions before focusing on offsetting residual carbon. Consequently, the ideal process for achieving net zero emissions adheres to the following steps:

  1. Commit: Gain the commitment from key players in the organisation, including senior management.
  2. Prioritise: Understand your emissions and determine the boundaries, then prioritise which areas need to be addressed and establish a strategy to address them.
  3. Reduce: Implement your emissions reduction strategy.
  4. Offset: Offset your remaining emissions using carbon credits.
  5. Evaluate: Reflect on your performance, consider how you can improve things, and repeat the process.

 

ESI Monitor provides the perfect platform for achieving net zero emissions. Through our Environmental Business Operations Framework, we provide all the tools you need to measure, manage, minimise, and continually improve your environmental impact. We also offer a uniquely impactful carbon offsetting service, where the price of offset goes towards projects that absorb harmful emissions or prevent them from being produced in the future, and to restorative environmental projects local to the point of offset. Find out more about are Environmental Business Operations Framework here, and our carbon offsetting services here.

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