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You are using “net-zero” wrong

James Balik-Meacher Director, Climate Change & Net Zero Strategy
James Balik-Meacher

James leads our climate change & net-zero strategy services, helping companies measure, report and improve their environmental impact, as well as understanding and responding to emerging climate risks. James has completed value chain GHG assessments and developed carbon management plans for clients across multiple sectors. James has worked with multiple companies in setting SBTi validated carbon reduction targets, and developed the strategies needed to achieve them. He also has experience with the details of the TCFD recommendations, including climate scenario analysis.

You are using “net-zero” wrong. Here is what it should mean:

Net-zero has become a buzzword for corporate climate targets. Unfortunately, the inconsistent and often incorrect use of the term is leading to a common sentiment among the public that "net-zero is just greenwash, right?"

Companies that commit to net-zero need to remember where the term came from and align with a robust definition to reassure their stakeholders that they are on the correct path. Net-zero has been around for a long time as a concept, but it gained traction in the public consciousness in 2018 after an IPCC report on the impacts of over 1.5C of global warming. The report concluded that to avoid the worst impacts of climate change, we must achieve two things:

  1. Reduce gross global emissions by 50% by 2030.
  2. Achieve net-zero global emissions by 2050, by reducing as much as possible and removing any residual emissions from the atmosphere.

If a company wants its climate action to be taken seriously, they have no choice but to align with those goals. A net-zero target is not just about buying offsets; it should be a target to align with the global goals, including:

  • Rapid near-term emissions reductions
  • Long-term deep decarbonisation of the business model
  • Utilisation of carbon removals for any residual emissions

This can be difficult to explain to stakeholders, which is where recognised standards and external validation, like the SBTi net-zero standard, are essential to ensure stakeholder confidence. By aligning with a robust definition of net-zero, companies can demonstrate their commitment to climate action and avoid contributing to public scepticism about greenwashing.

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