Why is everyone talking about net zero? What is it?

You’re likely to have heard the term ‘net zero’ a lot across the world, but what is it and why does it matter?

Disclaimer: The information on this page was last updated on 23/12/2022, 13:12:24

Becoming net zero is a big part of the battle against climate change. You’ve likely heard it thrown around by the experts and the Government, but do you really know what it means? Don’t worry if you don’t; as always, we’ve got you covered!

What does net zero mean?

Net zero refers to how many greenhouse gases are produced against how many are taken away. When we’re taking away the same amount of greenhouse gases as we are producing, we become net zero.

In today’s world, this would be almost impossible to produce no carbon emissions, so we’re aiming for the next best thing first – meeting our production with reduction and becoming carbon net zero instead.

How do we become net zero?

Sometimes, we can simply cut our own carbon emissions by driving less, or buying more energy-efficient appliances, however, can we ever produce zero emissions? Probably not. Instead, we can reduce our carbon emissions and offset the rest.

Carbon offsetting is very simple. A project takes action to reduce 1 tonne of carbon dioxide, which is verified by an independent authority. This reduction is then given a 1-tonne “Emission Reduction”, which people can buy. The money for this goes towards funding carbon-reduction projects and this 1 tonne can’t be bought by anyone else so you know that what you buy really is going towards removing the right amount.

The Committee on Climate Change suggests that even with all of our existing climate change combatting technology working at maximum capacity, there will be around 130 million tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent (MtCO2e) per year of residual emissions around the world. This is why it’s so important to continue the research and development of new decarbonisation technology.

Why is net zero important?

If we don’t reach net zero, we will continue to release more greenhouse gases than we can take away. This will only accelerate the effects of climate change as more and more gases become trapped in the atmosphere, increasing the temperature of the Earth.

In the Paris Agreement, Governments agreed to keep the increased temperature well below 2°C and are aiming to keep it below 1.5°C. In order to reach this goal, global emissions need to reach net zero around mid-century to give us a reasonable chance.

What is the Government doing about it?

The UK Government has pledged that we will become carbon net zero by 2050, but how are they planning on doing this? They’ve set up a 10-point plan to get us there.

1. Advance offshore wind

The UK is already the world leader in offshore wind power, and the Government wants to improve this. By 2030, our wind power capacity is set to quadruple, to generate more power than all of our homes produce. The goal is to produce 40GW of offshore wind electricity and increase the number of floating offshore wind farms to 12.

Together this should save the equivalent of 21 MtCO2e from 2023-2027 (5% of our 2018 emissions).

Find out more about wind power

2. Driving the growth of low-carbon hydrogen

Hydrogen could easily provide a clean source of fuel for our homes, transport, and industry. By 2030, the goal is to have 5GW production capacity of low-carbon hydrogen which could replace fossil fuels like natural gas. Working with other renewables, this could soon become zero-carbon hydrogen.

This should save 41 MtCO2e between 2023 and 2032 (9% of our 2018 emissions)

3. Delivering new and advanced nuclear power

Nuclear power provides a reliable source of low-carbon electricity. There are already a number of small and medium-sized low carbon nuclear power plants across the UK and the Government is investing a lot more into these to develop modular reactors. These reactors would operate at 800c, which could unlock the key to hydrogen production.

Each GW of nuclear power generated is enough to power 2 million homes with clean energy.

4. Accelerating the shift to zero-emission vehicles

Electric and hybrid vehicles are becoming a more regular occurrence on our roads with the sale of new petrol and diesel cars soon to be abolished. With cars and vans making up nearly a fifth of all of our emissions, this is a great place to start. There are already a number of incentives and grants in place to encourage people to make the switch early.

By 2050, this could save 300 MtCO2e.

Learn more about electric vehicles

5. Green public transport, cycling, and walking

Cycling and walking already produce no carbon emissions and are also great for our health. The Government are planning on improving cycle lanes and pedestrian walkways to encourage more people to take it up over driving.

Of course, this might not be possible for long journeys, so bus and train services are also getting a revamp. We’ll be seeing a lot more zero-emission buses around and the railways are already being electrified and restoring some of the smaller rail links.

This is set to save 2 MtCO2e between 2023 and 2032.

6. 'Jet zero' and green ships

The aviation industry is also set to see upgrades as research goes underway to develop zero-emission aircraft. These fossil fuel-intensive journeys could be a thing of the past – if all goes to plan, we could see zero-emission aircraft by 2030.

Hydrogen-fuelled boats are also in the works as the UK has a strong history in shipbuilding. Trials are in place in Orkney ferries and a hydrogen refuelling station is due to launch in Teesside soon.

Greener boats could see a saving of 1 MtCO2e by 2032, and zero-emission aircraft could save us nearly 15 MtCO2e by 2050.

7. Greener buildings

Everyone can get involved in creating greener homes and businesses. Simply switching to renewable energy sources and upgrading to more energy-efficient appliances and boilers you could make a big difference.

There are a number of grants available for those trying to make their home more energy-efficient, such as the Green Homes Grant, Homes Upgrade Grant, and the ECO Scheme.

Between 2023 and 2032, it’s hoped that creating greener homes, offices, and other buildings, will save us 71 MtCO2e.

8. Investing in carbon capture, usage, and storage

We can’t cut out our carbon emissions entirely, so the carbon capture, usage, and storage (CCUS) plays a vital role in ensuring the greenhouse gases we do produce are as low as possible. The CCUS captures carbon dioxide and stores it deep underground where it cannot reach the atmosphere.

This will soon be globally necessary, but no country is yet to develop the right technology to be able to do it.

The aim is to capture 10Mt of carbon dioxide a year by 2030, which could save us 40 MtCO2e between 2023 and 2032.

9. Protecting our natural environment

The natural environment is one of the greatest tools we have to capture carbon. With trees and plants using it to create oxygen through photosynthesis, more is going to be done to save and grow forests and wildlife habitats.

Landscapes will be safeguarded as National Parks and Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty to preserve the UK’s beautiful and iconic landscapes and keep biodiversity growing.

This will also see more investment into efficient flood defences, protecting our homes, businesses, and communities, as well as the natural environment, from the destruction that floods can cause.

10. Green innovation and finance

Innovation, research, and development are extremely important in the goal to net zero as there’s a lot of new technology required to make this 10-point plan work. The green innovation will help bring down the cost of net zero and decarbonising our economy. A Net Zero Innovation Portfolio will focus on these 10 priority areas to aid in combating climate change and reaching the 2050 goal.

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