Not zero: how 'net zero' targets disguise climate inaction

Powerful article about the use of ‘net-zero’ as a way of evading real action on climate change. I agree with the sentiment: net-zero sounds basically as good as zero, but it’s actually not nearly as ambitious and would not be enough to mitigate the climate crisis. Emission reduction before offsetting must be at the center of any effective climate initiative. There’s not enough room for everyone to offset their carbon, so it’s important to take ‘net zero’ with a grain of salt. Even with ambitious, far-away goals like 40% embodied carbon reduction by 2030 and zero carbon by 2050, we need swift, dramatic action immediately. What GHG pollution is still taking place, even on the most ‘sustainable’ projects? Zero is much more demanding than net-zero and we should treat these phrases accordingly.


It reinforces the message of this article by 41 scientists: 10 myths about net zero targets and carbon offsetting, busted
“We must shift focus from distant net zero targets to real emissions reductions now”.


Thanks for posting this, and bringing the issue to the center of the conversation. I find that the challenge of reducing carbon emissions is closely analogous to the challenge of weight loss or of getting out of monetary debt. Everyone who has struggled with weight or debt knows how difficult it is to be honest with yourself (and others), stop the harmful behaviors, and turn the math in the opposite direction. But the only real cure is to change the math: in the case of weight we reduce calorie intake and/or increase calorie expenditure to stop storing excess calories and avoid accelerated illness and death; in the case of debt we reduce expenditures below our income level (assuming we can’t sufficiently increase income) in order to avoid financial ruin; in the case of carbon we must reduce (rather than continue to increase) the amount of carbon (GHG) we put into the air in order to stop (and to the extent possible, reverse) ongoing damage and avoid climate catastrophe.

In any of these cases, we can indulge in all kinds of spurious psychological games and bargains - magical thinking whose real objective is to keep the status quo of ease and pleasure, and to avoid the work and unpleasantness involved in returning to a balanced state. We desperately need to rocket forward the science and tools - and the political will and structure - that will allow us to create a realistic carbon diet or budget for each construction project, an absolute cap on how much GHG each project can put in the air, based on radical carbon emissions targets. Cap, no trade.


Great analogies and well put! I get tired of hearing how project teams and organizations are “saving” carbon. If I were on a tight budget, it wouldn’t make much sense for me to brag about saving $10k if I spent $90k on superfluous items that were 10% off. It’s not the carbon savings we should worry about, but rather what carbon are we “spending” or emitting. We need to get to true zero!

The research on Carbon Budgets for buildings, that is centred in EU, is the way to go. Mandatory carbon budgets /caps are being established, based on top-down country and sector allocations.
I am embarking on some research with others in Australia on similar topic, including carbon metrics.Research by Hoxha et al, 2020

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