Debunking the Confusion: Net Zero vs. Carbon Neutral vs. Science Based Targets
Climate change has become one of the most pressing environmental concerns worldwide, and it is driving a shift towards sustainable business practices. As companies strive to achieve sustainability, terminologies such as “Net Zero,” “Carbon Neutral,” and “Science Based Targets” (SBTs) are frequently used. However, their interchangeability often causes public confusion. In this article, we aim to differentiate between Net Zero and Carbon Neutral, explore the limitations of Carbon Neutrality, understand the introduction of Net Zero, explore common misconceptions, define Carbon Negative and Climate Positive, explain the importance of SBTs, and provide tips for detecting greenwashing tactics.
Net Zero vs. Carbon Neutral: The Key Differences
Carbon Neutral refers to balancing the amount of carbon dioxide released into the atmosphere by eliminating an equivalent amount of carbon from the atmosphere through carbon removal or mitigation. In contrast, Net Zero not only eliminates carbon emissions but also offsets remaining emissions by investing in renewable energy sources, utilizing carbon capture technologies, and finding innovative ways to reduce emissions. Net Zero goes beyond Carbon Neutrality to ensure a future with less carbon in the atmosphere.
Definition of Carbon Neutral and its limitations
Although Carbon Neutrality is an adequate approach to tackle climate change, it has some limitations. One significant limitation is that it only focuses on reducing carbon emissions and ignores the broader environmental impacts associated with the production and consumption of goods and services.
The introduction of Net Zero and how it differs from Carbon Neutral
Net Zero aims to address the limitations of Carbon Neutrality by addressing the broader environmental impact of a company’s operations. Net Zero strives not only to eliminate carbon emissions but to do so in a way that has a positive impact on the environment. This means using low-carbon energy sources, reducing energy consumption, and finding innovative solutions to reduce emissions, all while maintaining overall environmental sustainability.
Common misconceptions about Net Zero and Carbon Neutral
One common misconception is that achieving Net Zero requires the complete elimination of emissions, which is not possible in most sectors, like aviation, shipping, and manufacturing. However, the aim of Net Zero is to reduce as many emissions as possible and offset the rest in ways that still support the environment. Conversely, achieving Carbon Neutrality does not require complete elimination of emissions, but rather balancing emissions with reduction or removal strategies.
Carbon Negative and Climate Positive: Beyond Carbon Neutrality
Definition of Carbon Negative and Climate Positive
Carbon Negative is achieving less carbon in the atmosphere than emitted. This involves measures to remove or prevent carbon from entering the atmosphere, such as reforestation, soil carbon sequestration, and the development of carbon-neutral products. Climate Positive aims to address carbon emissions and ensure a positive environmental impact across the whole business cycle. It strives for overall environmental sustainability beyond carbon reduction and avoidance.
Why some companies choose to go beyond Carbon Neutrality
Companies go beyond Carbon Neutrality to demonstrate their commitment to environmental sustainability and differentiate themselves from competitors. Carbon Negative and Climate Positive approaches show a commitment to the environment and can create opportunities for innovation and attracting and retaining customers who align with similar values.
Addressing the confusion around the term "Carbon Positive"
The term “Carbon Positive” may seem promising, as it implies a company is actively removing more carbon than they emit. However, the term is often misused by companies seeking to greenwash their brand image without much evidence of meaningful efforts to offset their carbon footprint. It’s essential to investigate and verify the claims made by companies regarding their sustainability efforts, ensuring they reflect accurate and meaningful commitments.
Science Based Targets: The Roadmap to Net Zero
Explanation of Science Based Targets and their importance
SBTs are a set of objectives aligned with the Paris Climate Agreement, aimed at limiting global temperature increase to below 2 degrees Celsius by 2050. They provide a pathway for companies to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions, based on scientific evidence, to a level consistent with the Paris Agreement’s objectives.
The difference between Net Zero and near-term Science Based Targets
SBTs are targets that focus explicitly on emissions reduction and are typically shorter-term than Net Zero. SBTs set the foundation for net zero goals by establishing specific targets for companies that align with the Paris Agreement’s goals.
How SBTs contribute to global climate goals
SBTs provide companies with clear and effective ways to contribute to global climate goals, in addition to driving innovation, reducing costs, and promoting sustainable business practices. The alignment of these targets with the Paris Agreement accelerates international climate action, advancing towards a more sustainable future.
Detecting Greenwashing: Separating Fact from Fiction
Examples of misleading claims by companies
Many companies are guilty of making vague or false claims to achieve a green image. Examples include claiming to be 100% renewable, using eco-friendly or natural products without providing evidence, claiming Carbon Neutrality without disclosing Scope 3 emissions, and exaggerating the extent of their environmental sustainability efforts.
Understanding the scope of emissions and the importance of transparency
It’s vital to understand Scope 1, 2, and 3 emissions, which represent direct emissions from owned and controlled sources, indirect emissions from the generation of purchased energy, and all other indirect emissions. Comprehensive reporting of these scopes is a critical tool for promoting transparency and accountability, reducing greenwashing tactics, and promoting accurate information about a company’s sustainability efforts.
Tips for recognizing greenwashing and making informed choices
Consumers and investors can recognize greenwashing by doing research, verifying company claims, scrutinizing the language used in advertising, and looking for concrete evidence of a company’s sustainability efforts. Making informed choices reduces the demand for greenwashing tactics and drives companies to work towards more comprehensive and meaningful sustainability efforts.
In summary, addressing climate change requires a fundamental shift in business practices. Understanding the differences between Carbon Neutrality and Net Zero, as well as the importance of Science Based Targets, Carbon Negative, and Climate Positive approaches, is essential for making informed decisions about sustainability claims made by companies. Furthermore, recognizing greenwashing tactics, scrutinizing company claims, and promoting transparency will accelerate this shift towards a sustainable future.
To go further:
- IPCC, Sixth Assessment Report (2023). https://www.ipcc.ch/assessment-report/ar6/
- Science Based Targets Initiative. (2021). The Science Based Targets initiative launches its net-zero standard. https://sciencebasedtargets.org/news/sbti-launches-world-first-net-zero-corporate-standard
- International Energy Agency. (2019). Global CO2 emissions in 2019. https://www.iea.org/reports/global-co2-emissions-in-2019
- United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change. (2015). Adoption of the Paris Agreement. https://unfccc.int/resource/docs/2015/cop21/eng/l09r01.pdf
- Science Based Targets Initiative. (2021). What are science-based targets? https://sciencebasedtargets.org/what-is-a-science-based-target/
- CDP. (n.d.). Scope 1, 2 and 3 emissions https://www.cdp.net/en/guidance
- Sustainability Accounting Standards Board. (n.d.). ESG standards. https://www.sasb.org/standards/download/