Blue Planet United Joins Net Zero Campaign
For a livable climate, Net Zero commitments must be backed by credible action. All of us can join in that action!
• What is Net Zero?
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.
• Why is net zero important?
The science shows clearly that in order to avert the worst impacts of climate change and preserve a livable planet, global temperature increase needs to be limited to 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels. Currently, the Earth is already about 1.1°C warmer than it was in the late 1800s, and emissions continue to rise. To keep global warming to no more than 1.5°C – as called for in the Paris Agreement – emissions need to be reduced by 45% by 2030 and reach net zero by 2050.
• What is the difference between Carbon-neutral and Net Zero?
While carbon-neutral refers to balancing out the total amount of carbon emissions, net-zero carbon means no carbon was emitted from the get-go, so no carbon needs to be captured or offset. In reality, since too much carbon is already in the atmosphere, the action needed is the same.
• How can net zero be achieved?
Transitioning to a net-zero world is one of the greatest challenges humankind has faced. It calls for nothing less than a complete transformation of how we produce, consume, and move about.
The good news is that many people are already changing their habits: driving fewer miles, buying local produce, making their houses more energy efficient, and if they can afford to, putting solar panels on their rooftops.
The energy sector is the source of around three-quarters of greenhouse gas emissions today and holds the key to averting the worst effects of climate change. Replacing polluting coal, gas and oil-fired power with energy from renewable sources, such as wind or solar, will dramatically reduce carbon emissions.
• Does Net Zero mean no fossil fuels?
Once we stop emitting greenhouse gases from fossil fuels, we still need to deal with all the emissions we’ve already pumped into the atmosphere over the years. Getting to net zero means we can still produce some emissions, as long as they are offset by processes that reduce greenhouse gases already in the atmosphere.
• Is there a global effort to reach Net Zero?
Yes, a growing coalition of countries, cities, businesses and other institutions are pledging to get to net zero emissions. More than 70 countries, including the biggest polluters – China, the United States, and the European Union – have set a net-zero target, covering about 76% of global emissions. More than 3,000 businesses and financial institutions are working with the Science-Based Targets Initiative to reduce their emissions in line with climate science. And more than 1000 cities, over 1000 educational institutions, and over 400 financial institutions have joined the Race to Zero, pledging to take rigorous, immediate action to halve global emissions by 2030.
• Are we on track to reach net zero by 2050?
No, commitments made by governments to date fall far short of what is required. Current national climate plans – for 193 Parties to the Paris Agreement taken together – would lead to a sizable increase of almost 11% in global greenhouse gas emissions by 2030, compared to 2010 levels. Getting to net zero requires all governments – first and foremost the biggest emitters – to significantly strengthen their Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs) and take bold, immediate steps towards reducing emissions now. The Glasgow Climate Pact called on all countries to revisit and strengthen the 2030 targets in their NDCs by the end of 2022, but only 24 new or updated climate plans were submitted by September 2022.
• You can take action!
All of us can do something to substantially slow our use of fossil fuels, and help ensure a safer, more stabile world for our families, for our future.
Net Zero – What Can We Do?
The most feasible pathways to net-zero emissions include four main strategies:
- Generate electricity without emissions.
- Use vehicles and equipment that are powered by electricity instead of fossil fuels.
- Use energy more efficiently.
- Remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere.*
*The only way to truly become carbon neutral is to balance out your remaining emissions through carbon offsetting. One key way to do that is to plant and care for trees, or contribute financially to projects that plant and care for trees.
Interactive Map of U.S. Cities with Carbon Neutral Plans
This is an interactive map showing 150 cities in the U.S. who have carbon neutral plans, or who are already carbon neutral (7 cities total). Information about the particular city will pop up when click on it. Use the +/- controls to zoom in and out, and click-and-drag to move around the map.
What Does Net Zero Emissions Mean?
8 Common Questions, Answered
1. What Does It Mean to Reach Net-Zero Emissions?
Net-zero emissions will be achieved when all GHG emissions released by human activities are counterbalanced by removing GHGs from the atmosphere in a process known as carbon removal.
First and foremost, human-caused emissions (such as those from fossil-fueled vehicles and factories) should be reduced as close to zero as possible. Any remaining GHGs should then be balanced with an equivalent amount of carbon removal, which can happen through things like restoring forests or using direct air capture and storage (DACS) technology.
2. When Does the World Need to Reach Net-Zero Emissions?
Under the Paris Agreement, countries agreed to limit warming well below 2 degrees C (3.6 degrees F), ideally to 1.5 degrees C (2.7 degrees F). Global climate impacts that are already unfolding under the current 1.1 degrees C(1.98 degrees F) of warming — from melting ice to devastating heat waves and more intense storms — show the urgency of minimizing temperature increase.
The latest science suggests that reaching the Paris Agreement’s temperature goals will require reaching net-zero emissions on the following timelines:
- In scenarios limiting warming to 1.5 degrees C, carbon dioxide (CO2) needs to reach net-zero between 2044 and 2052, and total GHG emissions must reach net-zero between 2063 and 2068. Reaching net zero earlier in the range avoids a risk of temporarily overshooting 1.5 degrees C. Reaching the top of the range almost guarantees surpassing 1.5 degrees C for some time before it eventually drops down.
- In scenarios limiting warming to 2 degrees C, CO2 needs to reach net zero by 2070 (for a 66% likelihood of limiting warming to 2 degrees C) to 2085 (with a 50-66% likelihood). Total GHG emissions must reach net-zero by the end of the century or beyond.
The Special Report on Global Warming of 1.5˚C, from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), finds that if the world reaches net-zero emissions by 2040, the chance of limiting warming to 1.5 degrees C is considerably higher. The sooner emissions peak, and the lower they are at that point, the more realistic achieving net zero becomes. This would also create less reliance on carbon removal in the second half of the century.
This does not suggest that all countries need to reach net-zero emissions at the same time. The chances of limiting warming to 1.5 degrees C, however, depend significantly on how soon the highest emitters reach net-zero emissions. Equity-related considerations — including responsibility for past emissions, equality in per-capita emissions and capacity to act — also suggest earlier dates for wealthier, higher-emitting countries.
Importantly, the time frame for reaching net-zero emissions is different for CO2 alone versus for CO2 plus other GHGs like methane, nitrous oxide and fluorinated gases. For non-CO2 emissions, the net zero date is later because models suggest that some of these emissions — such as methane from agricultural sources — are more difficult to phase out. However, these potent but short-lived gases will drive temperatures higher in the near-term, potentially pushing temperature change past the 1.5 degrees C threshold much earlier.
Because of this, it’s important for countries to specify whether their net-zero targets cover CO2 only or all GHGs. A comprehensive net-zero emissions target would include all GHGs, ensuring that non-CO2 gases are also reduced.
3. What Needs to Happen to Achieve Net-Zero Emissions?
Policy, technology and behavior need to shift across the board. For example, in pathways to 1.5 degrees C, renewables are projected to supply 70-85% of electricity by 2050. Energy efficiency and fuel-switching measures are critical for reducing emissions from transportation. Improving the efficiency of food production, changing dietary choices, halting deforestation, restoring degraded lands and reducing food loss and waste also have significant potential to reduce emissions.
It is critical that the structural and economic transition necessary to limit warming to 1.5 degrees C is approached in a just manner, especially for workers tied to high-carbon industries. The good news is that most of the necessary technologies are available and increasingly cost-competitive with high-carbon alternatives. Solar and wind now provide the cheapest poweravailable for 67% of the world. Markets are waking up to these opportunities and to the risks of a high-carbon economy, and shifting accordingly.
Investments in carbon removal techniques are also necessary. The different pathways assessed by the IPCC to achieve 1.5 degrees C all rely on carbon removal to some extent. Removing CO2 from the atmosphere will compensate for emissions from sectors in which reaching net-zero emissions is more difficult, such as aviation. Carbon removal can be achieved by several means, including through land-based approaches and technological approaches.
4. Is the World on Track to Reach Net-Zero Emissions on Time to Avoid the Worst Climate Impacts?
No — despite the enormous benefits of climate action, progress is happening far too slowly for the world to hold temperature rise to 1.5 degrees C (2.7 degrees F).
Significant gains have been made to reduce emissions, such as increasing the share of renewables in electricity generation. However, efforts to phase out unabated coal remain well off-track and must decline five times faster by 2030. Similarly, the share of electric vehicles in light-duty vehicle (LDV) sales hit 4.3% in 2020, increasing at a compound average growth rate of 50% over the last five years. Although promising, such progress still needs to accelerate significantly to help reduce the transport sector’s emissions and reach 75-95% of LDV sales by the end of this decade, a target aligned with limited warming to 1.5 degrees C.
Additionally, action must be taken to reverse course in cases, where change is at a standstill or headed in the wrong direction entirely. For instance, the world needs to drastically slow deforestation and increase tree cover gain three times faster by 2030.
5. How Many Countries Have Net-Zero Targets?
Global momentum for setting net-zero targets is growing quickly, with key economies like China, the United States and the European Union articulating such commitments. Bhutan was the first country to set a net-zero target in 2015. Now over 80 countries, representing more than 70% of global emissions, are covered by a net-zero target.
Climate Watch’s Net-Zero Tracker shows how these targets were set, such as through nationally determined contributions (NDCs), long-term low GHG emissions development strategies (long-term strategies), domestic laws, policies or high-level political pledges from heads of state or other cabinet members. The tracker also includes information on the scope of the targets, providing information about the GHGs and sectors covered by each, the extent to which the target relies on international offsets and more.
6. Does the Paris Agreement Commit Countries to Achieving Net-Zero Emissions?
In short, yes. Specifically, the Paris Agreement sets a long-term goal of achieving “a balance between anthropogenic emissions by sources and removals by sinks of greenhouse gases in the second half of this century, on the basis of equity, and in the context of sustainable development and efforts to eradicate poverty.” This concept of balancing emissions and removals is akin to reaching net-zero emissions.
The Glasgow Climate Pact, signed at COP26 and marking the five year anniversary of the Paris Agreement, urges countries to move “towards just transitions to net zero emissions by or around midcentury, taking into account different national circumstances.” To this end, the pact encourages parties “that have not yet done so to communicate…long-term low greenhouse gas emission development strategies” that set the country on a pathway toward net zero. The shift from “in the second half of this century” to “by or around mid-century” reflects a notable increase in perceived urgency.
7. Why and How Should Countries Align Their Near-Term Emissions-Reduction Targets with a Net-Zero Emissions Goal?
Countries typically set net-zero targets for around 2050 — nearly three decades from now. However, in order to ensure that the country gets on the right track toward realizing this ambition, the long-term objective must guide and inform near-term action today. This will help avoid locking in carbon-intensive, non-resilient infrastructure and technologies. Countries can also cut near- and long-term costs by investing in green infrastructure that will not need to be phased out later, designing consistent policies and sending strong signals to the private sector to invest in climate action.
Under the Paris Agreement, countries agreed to submit climate plans every five years, known as nationally determined contributions (NDCs). NDCs, which currently target 2030, are an important tool to align near- and long-term goals. When informed by a country’s long-term vision, these documents can help governments implement the policies necessary in the nearer term to realize an ambitious mid-century objective.
Many countries with net-zero targets are beginning to incorporate them directly into their near-term NDCs, particularly now that the Glasgow Climate Pact “notes the importance of aligning nationally determined contributions with long-term low greenhouse gas emission development strategies.” Ultimately, it is critical that countries act today and set near-term plans that will put them on the right track toward realizing their long-term objectives.
8. Are Net-Zero Targets a Form of Greenwashing?
No, but they can be if used as an excuse to not take bold climate action in the near-term.
Although net-zero targets continue to gain traction with governments and companies, skeptical voices have emerged, from academic journals to campaign groups to Greta Thunberg’s speech in Davos. Critiques of net-zero targets include:
a. The “net” aspect of net-zero targets could dampen efforts to rapidly cut emissions.
Critics are concerned that this could foster an overreliance on carbon removal, allowing decision-makers to use net-zero targets to avoid emission reductions in the near-term. Decision-makers can address this concern by setting ambitious gross reduction targets (targets that do not rely on removals) alongside their longer-term net reduction targets.
b. Some countries’ net-zero targets rely on purchasing emissions reductions, delaying reductions within their own boundaries.
Some countries are setting net-zero targets that rely on investing in or paying for emissions reductions from other countries to use toward their own targets. There’s concern that government leaders might use this strategy to avoid reducing their own emissions in the long-term. Decision-makers can address this concern by setting deep emission reduction targets that explicitly avoid or limit using offsets to achieve their goals.
c. The time horizon for net-zero targets — typically 2050 — feels distant.
Today’s infrastructure can last for decades and have a major impact on mid-century targets. Decision-makers must take this into account by establishing near- and mid-term milestones for their path to net-zero emissions, including by setting ambitious 2030 emission reduction targets as part of their NDCs. NDCs are subject to transparency and accountability mechanisms under the Paris Agreement that can foster implementation in the near term, which is critical for a long-term net-zero goal to be credible.
In short, net-zero commitments must be robust to be effective and advance climate action. Countries must take concrete steps to ensure this if they are to effectively address the challenge at hand.
How many new trees would we need to offset our carbon emissions?
Because of the complexity of the carbon cycle, the answer is not obvious. What is obvious, MIT experts say, is that we should not only plant more trees but also put much more effort into protecting existing forests.
As trees grow, they take in carbon from the air and store it in wood, plant matter, and in the soil, making them what scientists call “carbon sinks.” In this way, forests play an important role in the global carbon cycle by soaking up lots of carbon dioxide that would otherwise live in the atmosphere. Could we plant enough trees to absorb the amount of CO2 that Americans create and, in theory, cancel out our carbon emissions?
It’s tempting to think that a back-of-the-envelope calculation can deliver a ballpark answer. For example, studies have estimated an average American’s carbon footprint at around 16 tons of CO2 annually, one of the highest figures for any country because of the energy-intensive American lifestyle. A single mature tree, meanwhile, may take in about 50 pounds of carbon dioxide per year. At this rate, it would take 640 trees per person to account for all American emissions, which adds up to more than 200 billion trees. (A recent study estimated there are about 3 trillion trees on Earth right now.) So that’s the answer, right?
The short answer is, no. In reality, the carbon math is much messier. As part of the planet’s natural carbon cycle, carbon sinks such as the forests and oceans absorb an enormous amount of naturally emitted CO2 as well as much of what humans create. Humanity’s emissions have tipped that natural cycle out of balance. And the enormous complexity of this system makes it perhaps impossible to say for sure how many new trees would be required to bring it back into balance.
MIT professor of civil and environmental engineering Charles Harvey explains that although it is a good idea for the world to plant many more trees, the truth is much more complicated than assuming more trees can cancel out our emissions. One key question is: How much treeless land is available for planting? Dense forests once covered the American Midwest, for example. They could grow there again, but much of that treeless land is now used for cities, agriculture, and industry.
Even if the United States could find the space to plant about 200 billion new trees, Harvey notes, it would not reap the climate benefits immediately. The faster trees are growing, the more carbon they can suck up, which means new growth is not as valuable as a carbon sink as are longstanding forests. There’s another problem, too: Trees don’t last forever. When they die and decay, burn in a wildfire, or are chopped down and burned for fuel, trees release all the CO2 they’ve been hiding away. (There are exceptions to this rule: Harvey studies peat forests in places like the peat swamp forests of Borneo, where biomass accumulates on the forest floor rather than fully decaying and releasing its CO2. But most forests cannot theoretically sequester carbon forever.)
It is also not clear that trees could continue to soak up CO2 indefinitely if humans continue our emissions unabated. Trees need not only carbon dioxide but also nutrients from the soil like nitrogen and phosphorus to grow. Research by César Terrer, MIT assistant professor of civil and environmental engineering, has shown that trees will need much more of both nutrients to balance their diets as the CO2 concentration in the atmosphere increases. If the soil does not have enough, that could curtail how much new CO2 a tree is able to store.
For all these reasons, Harvey says, a society could get more bang for its buck by focusing on preserving existing forests rather than prioritizing new growth as a way to offset emissions.
“Planting trees where they aren’t is often a good idea, and that will take up CO2,” Harvey says. “But a much more efficient thing to do, to have a larger effect for the same effort, is to stop cutting down trees. It’s almost silly to think about [planting a huge number of new trees] while we’re just burning and destroying them everywhere, releasing carbon at rates that are much higher than what new growth would take up.”
Source: MIT Climate Portal climate.mit.edu Article posted June 16, 2022.
Six (NOT EASY) key lifestyle changes can help avert the climate crisis, study finds
Research shows that governments and individuals making small changes can have a huge impact in reducing emissions
By Matthew Taylor for The Guardian, Monday, 07 March 2022
People in well-off countries can help avert climate breakdown by making six [for some people, major] lifestyle changes, according to research from three leading institutions.
The study found that sticking to six specific commitments – from flying no more than once every three years to only buying three new items of clothing a year – could rein in the runaway consumption that is partially driving the climate crisis.
The research carried out by academics at Leeds University, UK and analysed by experts at the global engineering firm Arup and the C40 group of world cities, found that making the six commitments could account for a quarter of the emissions reductions required to keep the global heating down to 1.5C.
The study was published on Monday, March 7th, alongside the launch of a new climate movement to persuade and support well-off people to make “The Jump” and sign up to the six pledges. Tom Bailey, co-founder of the campaign said: “This ends once and for all the debate about whether citizens can have a role in protecting our earth. We don’t have time to wait for one group to act, we need ‘all action from all actors now’.”
Last week the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) issued its “bleakest warning yet”, saying the climate crisis was accelerating rapidly with only a narrow chance left of avoiding its worst ravages. Bailey said as the world reaches the edge of ecological collapse, it needed a workable alternative to this ‘universal consumer society’ in the next decade. “The research is clear that governments and the private sector have the largest role to play but it is also equally clear from our analysis that individuals and communities can make a huge difference.”
The Jump campaign asks people to sign up to take the following six “shifts” for one, three or six months:
- Eat a largely plant-based diet, with healthy portions and no waste.
- Buy no more than three new items of clothing per year.
- Keep electrical products for at least seven years.
- Take no more than one short haul flight every three years and one long haul flight every eight years.
- Get rid of personal motor vehicles if you can – and if not keep hold of your existing vehicle for longer.
- Make at least one life shift to nudge the system, like moving to green energy, insulating your home, or changing pension supplier.
The campaign was officially kicked off on Saturday and Bailey said there was already a growing movement emerging in response to the evidence with Jump groups up and running around the country. “This is not just new information, or a normal behaviour change ‘campaign’, but a fun movement that is working to go way beyond the usual ‘greenie’ suspects,” said Bailey. “A movement that is able to engage all types of people … engaging and being led by communities of colour and the economically excluded.”
Bailey said there has been a widespread belief in climate circles in recent years that individual action was relatively ineffective and the only option was to get out on the streets and demand system change from governments and corporations.
“Obviously this is still hugely important but what this research shows is that there is a role for a new joyful climate movement which can help lead the way to less stuff and more joy.”
Some of the shifts the campaign calls for are, at least partially, dependent on systemic change – the prohibitive cost of train fares might leave individuals with little choice but to use short haul flights for essential journeys; public transport may be expensive or nonexistent in areas of the country, leaving people with no choice but to use their car.
Bailey was the lead author of Labour’s plan to decarbonise the UK’s energy sector at the last election. He has worked in the green energy sector in the UK, US and China for the past 15 years, and said individual actions could have a cascade effect, leading to community level action and ultimately contributing to systemic change.
Although not everyone would be able to commit to all the pledges, just “making a start” could have a big impact, he said.
“This isn’t going back to the stone age, it’s just finding a balance. Less consuming in relatively rich western countries can mean more creativity, comedy, connection … Live for joy, not for stuff.”
The research is based on a study by academics at Leeds University, Arup and the C40 group of leading cities which assesses the impact of consumption by people in the world’s leading cities. Analysis of that data has found that six steps set out above could cut global emissions by between 25% and 27%.
Ben Smith, director of climate change at Arup, who led the analysis, said that as scientific evidence mounts, it was clear that all sections of society had to act.
“Our research shows that all of us, from politicians, city and business leaders to individual citizens, have important roles to play. And it is clear there’s lots that we can do as individuals, and that this is one of the easiest and quickest places to start”.
What is a Sustainable Community?
Blue Planet United is dedicated to promoting an agenda for sustainable living and sustainable communities. But what do we mean by sustainability?
The term is often defined as having an equal balance of the three Es: Environmentalquality, Economic vitality, and social Equity. Building sustainable communities requires careful integration of environmental, social and economic strategies. If we can focus on all three – not just one – these strategies create a sense of place, personal responsibility, and social well-being that together foster improvements in quality of life.
Sustainable communities are healthy communities where natural resources are preserved, jobs are available, sprawl is contained, neighborhoods are secure, education is lifelong, health care is affordable and all citizens have opportunities to improve the quality of their lives. Who doesn’t want to live in a place like that? Who doesn’t want clean air and clean water and tasty local food and safe playgrounds for children? We can achieve those goals by changing our focus and our behavior.
To sustain is to support without collapse. As the 21st century lurches forward, sustainable communities will be the ones that become more resilient. Pandemics and the climate crisis will require rethinking how we live. For example, in order to avoid pandemics, the world needs to shut down wild animal markets, which are cruel and unsustainable anyway. To avoid worsening climate disasters, we need to transition away from fossil fuels as soon as possible, fossil fuels that are not good for our health in any case.
In this respect, the current pandemic has produced some unexpected and thought-provoking consequences.
- People have noticed and appreciated bluer skies and cleaner air as a result of the declining use of fossil fuels. Waterways are cleaner too! The shift to renewable sources of energy, such as solar and wind, has accelerated, supported by changing public attitudes.
- People have seen that disadvantaged communities, minorities, marginalized groups and low-wage industries have been disproportionately affected in the pandemic, highlighting the increasing inequality of the social order that has attracted widespread attention. It is a reminder that a sustainable community is also a just community that guarantees the right to equal treatment and equal opportunities for everyone.
- People have experienced a dramatic change in the relationship between work and home life, raising questions about the emergence of new and better ways of living and working.
If nothing else, we have learned that people can make substantial daily lifestyle changes very quickly when required to do so. To live sustainably we must endeavor to be civic minded, to treat ourselves and others with respect, and to create innovative solutions to our current problems.
To be sure, the problems we face are complex, systemic and multifaceted. But to get started, individuals can take steps on their own, such as:
- Get to know the place where you live as a bioregion, not just as a political jurisdiction. Get to know native plants and animals. Appreciate the roles they play in your health and well-being.
- If your income rises, instead of buying more, bigger, or fancier things, reward yourself with less stuff and a simpler life that allows you more freedom and more time for family, friends and community.
- Engage in social discourse that explores complex issues, avoids stereotyping and extremism, and searches for creative solutions.
As we work together to make a more sustainable world, we must be kind to ourselves and others, and creative in envisioning solutions for a better future.
COMPASSION and EMPATHYParaphrased from Eric Hoffer
As things are now, it may well be that our ability to change the way we live will depend not only on the capacity to be flexible and creative, but also on compassion. In the alchemy of the human soul, almost all noble attributes—courage, love, hope, faith, beauty, loyalty—can be transmuted into ruthlessness. Compassion and empathy alone stand apart from the continuous traffic between good and evil proceeding within us. Where there is compassion, even the poisonous impulses remain relatively harmless.
CLIMATE CRISIS: The Really Big One
From the Executive Director
The global—and local—response to the pandemic is in a sense a testing ground for the capacity of communities to deal with the biggest and most complex challenge of all—the climate crisis. It has not gone away.
In terms of recognition of the danger, and co-operation for the common good, the Covid-19 experience so far yields a very mixed report. And the tensions that are likely to persist in the post-pandemic world will complicate things greatly.
The question remains: How and when will we change? Will there be a renewed sense of urgency and purpose? Will there be a new global order? Will that allow for rapid progress on this hugely complex issue?
In order to slow lurking climate disasters, we must greatly reduce our use of fossil fuels. What can we do as individuals? The chart below gives us a start.