Net-zero by 2050
You probably hear a lot of talk about net-zero by 2050. McDonalds are talking about it, airlines talk about it, COP26 talked about, the government is talking about it. Pretty much every big polluting business is thinking about how they can abuse net zero for PR to keep your custom, in fact, and the government uses it to kick the can down the road into someone else’s term of office.
“…the utter nonsense that is ‘net-zero by not-in-my-term-of-office’. Rising oil production, airport expansion &more gas pipelines all fit with net-zero, but not with 1.5-2°C carbon budgets. Sadly politicians love net-zero”Kevin Anderson Professor of Energy and Climate Change at the University of Manchester
Offsets lack integrity
Not all offsets are bad though, sometimes they do have positive social impacts, but they lack standardisation, transparency, and encourage the continuation of polluting business practices. For example, how would you know whether farms planted with your offsets wouldn’t have been planted anyway? Some research analysed 120 offset projects and found that around a third of them simply piggy backed on existing conservation plans and provided no additional benefit. Other research has shown that offsetting is not a zero-sum game and that a majority of projects studied lack integrity, resulting in net positive emissions.
Net zero was dreamt up with good intentions though
We can stop using fossil fuels for energy and go completely plant based, but there will still be some activities from which you cannot eradicate emissions completely, like emissions that come from plant agriculture – you can’t get to zero. The idea was that you can get to net zero though, by using natural carbon capture like trees, peatlands and other nature based solutions to remove that last bit of carbon from the atmosphere that we can’t avoid emitting.
Offsets are good PR for Polluters and Governments
However, corporations, companies and governments have cottoned on to this as a gimmick to allow them to continue business as usual – it’s become an accounting trick to ‘offset’ emissions from the balance sheet without the need to stop polluting. They think if they say they will pay a developing country to plant some trees on its precious land that they are absolved of their carbon recklessness.
Carbon capture wont capture enough carbon in time
Even if offsets were always fair and just, transparent and standardised, trees need time to grow to effectively capture carbon, and are also very vulnerable to catching fire and releasing any carbon they’ve captured as we see more heat and drought as climate change progresses. Fossil fuel companies push carbon capture and storage technology projects that have been proven not to work and which we may not be able to scale to any significantly helpful level in any case. That’s why net zero is greenwash. It only works if we decarbonise, not if we continue as we are.
Net Zero is Unjust
It’s also massively insulting to developing countries which are at much greater risk from climate change, because it implies the exceptionalism that wealthy high emitting nations from the global north should be allowed to continue their decimation of the planet and expect low emitting developing countries to come to the rescue by providing land and trees to capture carbon.
Net-zero is not compatible with carbon budgets that will keep us under 1.5 degrees
With net zero as it’s been coopted, it wont keep us within carbon budgets to meet the Paris Agreement commitment to stay under a 1.5 degrees increase in global average temperature. A huge body of scientific evidence shows us that to stay under 1.5 degrees, we need to stop emitting at source. We cannot reply on carbon capture or technology that we can’t scale effectively.