Fed up with net zero climate targets, activists call for ‘true zero’
As United Nations concern over climate change has intensified in recent years, a slew of companies have announced net-zero carbon emissions targets.
More … than 300 large companiesincluding Amazon, Procter & Gamble, HP and Salesforce, have now signed a pledge to achieve net zero emissions by 2040. Countries’ net zero pledges cover around 70% of global gross domestic product and carbon emissions, the International Agency said. Energy. in a report last May.
But net zero – which calls for a neutral carbon impact through removing the same amount of emissions from the atmosphere as an entity releases – has drawn backlash from campaigners and some experts. The approach allows companies to continue releasing significant amounts of carbon while pursuing emissions offsets, which are difficult to verify and sometimes rely on technology that has yet to be developed, advocates for the policy have said. environment at ABC News.
Many advocates have called on companies to instead pursue a “true zero” emissions goal, which calls for the outright elimination of carbon emissions. The more ambitious goal would ensure companies significantly reduce carbon emissions and remove the challenge of developing and verifying carbon offsets, advocates told ABC News.
But the paradigm shift towards true zero emissions goals is still in its infancy and could lead to economic disruption, radically altering or eliminating industries that depend on fossil fuels, such as oil and gas, the ministers said. supporters.
Katie Tubb, a researcher on energy and environmental issues at the conservative think tank Heritage Foundation, took those concerns further, saying a transition to true zero would be unachievable for many businesses, provide only a fraction of the reductions in carbon emissions needed globally and would potentially increase costs for businesses and consumers.
Advocates, however, said the urgent need to cut carbon emissions requires an ambitious approach like true zero.
“Companies are using the net zero mantra like a fig leaf to continue what they’re doing,” David Klein, a math professor at California State University Northridge, where he helps with the Climate Science Program, told ABC News.
“Think of it as a pan of water heated by a flame below,” he added. “As long as this flame is lit, as long as energy is entering the system, the temperature will continue to rise. Instead of net zero, we need to decrease the concentration of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere by drastically decreasing the emissions.”
A UN climate report published in April sounded an urgent alarm that the world is on the verge of far exceeding a 1.5 degree Celsius rise above pre-industrial temperatures – a level beyond which many scientists say climate change will have negative effects. During the Paris climate agreements in 2015, 196 parties committed to setting a goal well below 2 degrees Celsius warming, preferably below 1.5 degrees Celsius warming.
“It’s now or never if we want to limit warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius,” said Jim Skea, professor of sustainable energy at Imperial College London. in a report the release of the April UN climate report. “Without immediate and deep emission reductions across all sectors, this will be impossible.”
The UN, who said so supports an eventual net zero economy in the world, recognized the importance of verifying net zero commitments. The The UN indicates on its website that net zero commitments “must be backed by credible action”. In March, UN Secretary General António Guterres established a group of experts that will recommend standards for net zero emissions pledges.
But measuring an entity’s achievement of a net zero goal poses a significant, potentially insurmountable challenge that hurts the global effort to reduce carbon emissions, said Tyson Slocum, director of the group’s energy program. consumer advocacy Public Citizen.
“The ability to effectively oversee and verify these programs is very difficult,” he said, noting the challenge of estimating not only a company’s emissions, but also the carbon savings generated by its offsets. “Even if we had better protocols, there are concerns about how effectively it will work.”
“Much of the push around net zero and its reliance on offsets is actually a distraction from meaningful action to address the climate crisis,” he added.
The rapid development of renewable energy sources has equipped the industry with the resources to embark on the real zero crossing, environmental advocates said. Last year, renewable energy sources accounted for about 12.2% of total US energy consumption and about 20.1% of electricity generation. IEA said. Worldwide, the share of renewable energies in electricity production was 29% in 2020, the the group said.
Yet few companies have embraced the goal of true zero. One of these companies, NextEra Energy, is a holding company that oversees Florida Power & Light, a utility company that serves more than 12 million people in the state and aims to achieve zero emissions by 2045.
The company believes it can maintain the reliability and competitive price of its electricity while eliminating emissions, said Chris McGrath, communications manager at Florida Power. & Light, told ABC News.
“True zero for us is not a goal that relies on offsets,” McGrath said. “We are pursuing true zero because we believe it is achievable. We believe the technology exists now that we will be able to eliminate emissions and keep the lights on 24/7.”
The company plans to get to true zero by increasing the share of power it gets from solar power, improving battery storage that retains solar power during dark periods at night or when it’s cloudy fact, continuing its nuclear power operations and developing green hydrogen technology, McGrath said.
Green hydrogen technology would use renewable energy to power a process that extracts hydrogen from water, allowing the hydrogen to be used for tasks such as propelling vehicles or generating electricity . But the technology has yet to be developed, leaving Florida Power’s real zero goal & Light open to criticism that it relies on technology that currently doesn’t exist, much like some net zero lenses.
In response, McGrath said the technology does not represent a major leap in development.
“Hydrogen combustion is not a new technology,” McGrath said. “What’s unique for us is using solar energy to power the process.”
“We’re not claiming there won’t be challenges associated with achieving this goal, but we’ve been following this path for more than two decades,” he added.
Environmental advocates said rapid advances in renewable energy technology have helped meet zero-carbon goals, but acknowledged the change would disrupt the economy and have a huge impact on industries that depend on fossil fuels.
“There are certain industries, like an airline or a big oil company, where it’s going to be a bit difficult,” said Slocum, energy program director at Public Citizen. “They can’t really hit true zero effectively.”
The availability and affordability of renewable energy will ease the transition for many businesses, he added.
“There are all kinds of readily available, usable, and affordable technologies that businesses and other entities can incorporate into their systems,” he said.
Tubb, a researcher on energy and environmental issues at the conservative Heritage Foundation think tank, dismissed such an optimistic view. True zero emissions reductions from the select group of U.S. companies that could access large-scale renewables in the near term would only be a fraction of the emissions reductions needed around the world, she said. declared. In addition, the significant change in operations will impose costs on businesses and consumers, she added.
“That’s a lot of expense for a company to take on with questionable environmental benefits on the global warming side,” she said.
Rolf Skar, campaign manager for environmental advocacy group Greenpeace USA, said the call for a large-scale commitment to real zero is realistic rather than drastic, given the current pace of carbon emissions and the threat posed by climate change.
“If it’s radical, it’s radical because of the necessity of the crisis we’re in right now,” he said.