Business leaders should now accept that there’s no credible alternative to having a decarbonisation strategy. All organisations, whether private or public sector, need to be capable of making the transition to a zero-carbon economy in the next two decades.
Over the last year there’s been a rise in public and private sector organisations declaring climate emergencies and committing to net-zero futures. This is a positive response to the overwhelming evidence about the urgency and seriousness of the climate crisis, but there are valid concerns that net-zero targets are being set without a credible definition or a clear strategy.
In this blog we explain what a net-zero target is and how a company can set one that is ambitious, credible and science-based.
What is a net-zero target?
Net-zero is defined as cutting greenhouse has emissions to as little as possible and then balancing the remainder by enhancing carbon sinks which remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. This means that there are two elements to a net-zero pathway: a reductions pathway and a removals pathway.
The chart below illustrates how an organisation could present a pathway to being zero-carbon in its own operations (Scope 1 & 2) by 2035, and net-zero when including Scope 3 emissions and removals by 2040.
What do we need to do in the UK?
In May 2019, the Committee on Climate Change advised the UK government to set a net zero carbon emissions target for 2050. The report confirmed the changes that would need to happen for UK emissions to be cut to (nearly) net zero by 2050. The facts and figures from the report are summarised in the infographic below, please click the below image or link.
What is a credible net-zero strategy?
In order to build a credible net-zero strategy four big decisions must be made, which we have outlined below.
What is an appropriate emissions boundary for the net-zero target?
The emissions boundary for net-zero targets should be ambitious and aligned to established standards as a minimum, such as the Science-based Targets initiatives requirements and carbon neutral standards like PAS 2060. Ideally, organisations should look to include 100% of Scope 1, 2 & 3 when confidence in emissions data is sufficient. The scope of boundary can be expanded over time to become more ambitious as data quality and confidence improves.
What is your emissions reduction strategy?
The priority for a net-zero strategy is to reduce Scope 1 and 2 emissions on an absolute basis as fast as possible, followed by engagement with the supply chain to reduce Scope 3 emissions. Organisations should only set net-zero carbon targets that have reduction pathways compatible with science-based target requirements. This means that, as a minimum, emissions reductions should be consistent with limiting warming to well-below 2°C. Ideally, the reductions pathway should be consistent with limiting warming to 1.5°C.
What is a credible removals strategy?
We would encourage both insetting (direct sequestration) and offsetting (indirect sequestration) to be considered when designing your removals strategy. Organisations need to be clear on which emissions sources can be balanced to zero through removals, as this will affect the integrity of the strategy. It is more credible, for example, to offset emissions from air travel than from electricity consumption as there are no zero carbon air travel options.
What is your level of ambition and timescales?
Organisations should determine target milestone years by aligning with a science-based reduction pathway. The overall ambition of your strategy, and the cost and quality of reduction or removal choices are key factors in choosing which year to aim for net-zero.