Your handy climate pub chat guide to: Net zero

Lake Eildon was built in the 1950's to provide irrigation water, but the last time it was full was in 1995. (Provider: Ashley Cooper ashley@globalwarmingimages.net)
Lake Eildon was built in the 1950’s to provide irrigation water, but the last time it was full was in 1995. (Provider: Ashley Cooper [email protected])

Climate change is a dense and controversial topic, but we’re going to distil some of the key parts down to something simple, readable and digestible. If the topic comes up in conversation – either at the office or down the pub – this will help you hold your own. In this article, we’ll deal with what ‘net zero’ actually means.

In the fight against climate change, the UK – and numerous other countries – have pledged to get to ‘net zero’.

It’s the driving message of the COP26 talks and the demand you’re likely to hear from politicians and activists all week long.

The UK has pledged to get to get to net zero by 2050, meaning in twenty-nine years’ time, we won’t be emitting any greenhouse gases into the atmosphere.

In fact, it’s more than a pledge: it’s law.

The Climate Change Act 2008 committed the UK to an 80% reduction in carbon emissions relative to the levels in 1990, to be achieved by 2050.

In June 2019, secondary legislation was passed that extended that target to ‘at least 100%’, providing a legal obligation to the government to hit net zero.

This is where things can get a bit slippery.

Hitting net zero doesn’t necessarily mean there won’t be any emissions at all, but that if we do produce anything, it’s offset.

So we may employ techniques like carbon capture to offset the fossil fuels we burn manufacturing electric cars.

Which is why you may hear ‘carbon neutral’ used as an alternative expression to net zero.

Similarly, the UK (and other western countries) offload plenty of emissions to countries like China and India.

Climate change is a global problem, so it’s not simply a case of shifting manufacturing to another part of the world and claiming you’ve achieved carbon neutrality.

However, overall the UK’s emissions *have* been falling over the last three decades even though greenhouse gases are are on the rise globally.

Our emissions are now 57% of what they were in 1990.

How the UK's emissions have been falling over the last few decades (Institute for government)
How the UK’s emissions have been falling over the last few years (Institute for government)

Are we likely to hit net zero? Well, the independent Climate Change Committee (CCC) says net zero is ‘technically feasible but highly challenging’.

And that doing so will require sustained policy interventions across several sectors – many of which will be ‘complex, costly and time-consuming.’

Making changes to the way we behave individually as well as curbing some of the more toxic industries will all be needed if we’re going to make it to net zero.

MORE : Your handy climate pub chat guide to: Industries

MORE : Your handy climate pub chat guide to: Emissions

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