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What is Net-Zero Emission?

Published on Feb 11, 2023
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As per the United Nations, Net-zero emissions mean, “Put simply, net zero means cutting greenhouse gas emissions to as close to zero as possible, with any remaining emissions re-absorbed from the atmosphere, by oceans and forests for instance.”

For easier understanding, let’s take a simple example.

You have a glass filled with water up to the brim. Now, add more water to it, and you run a risk of the glass overflowing. So, you either

  1. stop pouring in more water or
  2. “drill a hole at the bottom and maintain the level while you pour water”.

Now replace the glass with the earth’s atmosphere and water with greenhouse gases.

In the above example, the 1st one is understandable, isn’t it? You just have to stop emitting greenhouse gases.

But the 2nd one is interesting as well as confusing. What does drilling a hole mean in real terms?

What this means is you emit greenhouse gases but take certain measures making sure that these measures counteract the greenhouse gases you’ve emitted.

How does that work?

Image by Esi Grünhagen from Pixabay

A tree is known to absorb 10–40kg of CO2 annually, as explained earlier in this blog.

In a simple example, let’s assume a factory might pollute the environment by emitting 100 kg of CO2 daily or nearly 36,000 kg of CO2 yearly. Now this factory can counter this by planting 1200 trees (assuming 30kg CO2 is absorbed by a tree annually on average).

And when you do such steps which result in zero balanced emissions, we call it net zero.

Though we’ve explained it in simple terms using the above example, it isn’t as easy as it sounds to be net zero. An industry usually emits much more than what we’ve stated in the above example.

And it is not just industries that emit. Buildings emit too. Don’t believe it? You’ve got your question answered here.

And there are various ways in which emissions are caused. Not easy to define in general terms, the climate industry broadly defines them in terms of Scope 1,2 and 3 as explained here.

So to counter such emissions, there are various ways in which many companies and individuals are approaching like switching their travel to low-carbon means, reducing unwanted energy usage, generating energy from renewables, planting trees, and carbon capture and storage to name a few.

Such measures when they result in complete counteract to what you’ve emitted in a specific time, you’ve achieved net-zero emissions.

Many big tech companies have announced their net-zero targets.

Apple wants to achieve net-zero status by 2030, Microsoft aims to achieve it earlier than 2030, and Intel by 2040.

Also, can you catch the ambiguity by defining such a term called net zero? It also means you’ll keep emitting but you’ll take some measures in such a way it balances what you are emitting.

Isn’t that a danger? For example, oil companies can keep doing what they are doing with fossil fuels but maybe plant trees, buy carbon credits and switch to EVs to reach their net-zero targets.

In fact, a blog from Carbon Brief states:

But the main problem is that most NETs are still only prospective technologies — they do not exist as large-scale socio-technical systems ready for deployment. Our stakeholder workshops highlighted huge uncertainties in how — or in some cases, whether — different NETs might work technically, economically and politically.

Net-zero plans that rely on promises of future carbon removal — instead of reducing emissions now — are, therefore, placing a risky bet. If the technologies anticipated to remove huge quantities of carbon in the 2040s and 2050s fail to work as expected — or lead to rebounds in emissions from land-use change, for example — then it might not be practical to compensate for the cumulative emissions from mitigation foregone between now and then.

To summarize, there are pros and cons to coining such a term. Maybe NetZero isn’t the complete solution we are looking for but committing to it means that a specific individual or organization is open to innovations which can tell them what their present emissions are and what could be the counteractive measures.

And we as climate-concerned citizens can put more pressure on and ask for green products. We are now starting to hear terms like green steel and green hydrogen, which are produced using renewable energy sources.

So what do you think about Net-Zero?

Written by Zodhya

About Zodhya

We are Zodhya, a start-up that provides AI-based tech to reduce energy bills and lower emissions for commercial buildings and industries.