Updated: May 7, 2021
Terms surrounding net-zero topics can be confusing, embodied with a vast number of scientific terms, these subjects can cause your brain into overdrive. We have devised this article to simplify some important terms that you may have seen flying about the internet, news and maybe on your social media. To help you understand the importance of the issues surrounding carbon dioxide and climate change. Encouraging you to consider how to implement environmentally friendly policies and practices into your business or lifestyle, in a joint effort to become net-zero by 2050.
Net-zero essentially is the balance between carbon emissions produced and the emissions removed from the atmosphere. The UK have set a target to reach zero-carbon by 2050. Meaning that the UK government hope that practices and lifestyles will produce equal amounts of emissions to the emissions removed from the atmosphere. In order to achieve this, a radical change across the economy is essential. Which means abandoning the use of fossil fuels and other sources of emissions wherever possible. Every ton of CO2 emitted must be matched by a ton that is removed by the atmosphere.
The importance of becoming net-zero
It is not uncommon knowledge that climate change is negatively impacting the world that we live in. With changes in extreme weather conditions from heatwaves to floods and landslides. In addition to this, rising sea levels, ocean acidification and loss of biodiversity is becoming ever more prevalent.
In order to limit global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius before irreparable damage is created the Intergovernmental Panel for Climate Change (IPCC) suggests that carbon neutrality by mid-21st century is essential. This target is also laid out in the Paris Agreement signed by 195 countries including the UK. The European Green Deal aims to make the European Union climate carbon neutral by 2050 to combat the damage, life-threatening effects of climate change.
The Paris Climate Agreement
The Paris Climate Agreement was adopted by nearly every nation in 2015 to address the negative and destructive effects of the climate crisis. All major greenhouse gas emitting countries committed to cutting their emissions and vowed to strengthen these commitments over time, by 2050. A major principle of this agreement is to cut greenhouse gas emissions to limit the global temperature rise to 1.5 degrees Celsius.
Carbon neutrality is achieved when emissions produced are offset by carbon credits or natural carbon sinks. This means offsetting emissions made in one sector by reducing them somewhere else. This can be done through investment in renewable energy, energy efficiency or other clean, low-carbon technologies. This term also refers to achieving net-zero carbon dioxide emissions by balancing carbon dioxide emissions with the removal of the gas or simply by eliminating carbon dioxide emissions altogether.
Carbon credits are permits which enforce a limit on companies that pollute the environment in terms of the emissions that they release into the atmosphere. Any unused credits can be sold to companies that are exceeding their limits in terms of releasing CO2 into the atmosphere. The main aim of this concept is for companies that pollute to reduce their emissions. This concept is also known as a form of carbon offsetting. Carbon credits are bought and sold through a variety of international brokers, online retailers and trading platforms. This benefits businesses that find it difficult to comply with emission caps as these businesses can purchase credits to offset their emissions.
Trading in carbon credits, if applied fairly can permit private investors to generate profits from their purchases and apply these profits towards the creation of environmentally-sustainable businesses that emit either low or no carbon emissions.
Natural carbon sinks
Carbon sinks are natural systems that suck up and store carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. They extract carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and absorb more carbon than they release. These sinks cover about 30% of the Earth’s land surface and as much as 45% of carbon stored on land is stored in these sinks. Natural ecosystems such as the ocean are regarded as the main natural carbon sinks. Oceans alone absorb approximately 50% of the carbon emitted into the atmosphere. Followed by forests, where trees absorb and store carbon dioxide.
Sequestered carbon (carbon capture)
Carbon sequestration is the long-term removal or capture of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. This process secures carbon dioxide to prevent it from entering the earth’s atmosphere. The notion behind the concept is to stabilise carbon in solid and dissolved forms so that it doesn’t cause the atmosphere to warm. In general, 45% of carbon dioxide in stays in the atmosphere, the rest is sequestered naturally by the environment. There are three main types of carbon sequestration.
Biological sequestration occurs when carbon dioxide is stored in vegetations such as grasslands or forests, in addition to being stored in soils or the ocean. By 2100 it is expected that the majority of oceans will be made up of carbon dioxide. Carbon is also sequestered in soil by plants through photosynthesis.
Geological sequestration is the process of storing carbon dioxide in underground geological formations or rocks. In general, carbon dioxide is captured from an industrial source such as steel or cement production and is injected into porous rocks for long-term storage. This carbon capture and storage can allow the use of fossil fuels until other energy sources are introduced on a large scale.
Scientists are exploring new ways to remove and store carbon from the atmosphere using innovative technologies, such as technological sequestration. Researchers are starting to look beyond removal of carbon dioxide and are now looking into more ways that it can be used as a resource. Such as creating graphene. A material used to create screens for smartphones and other technological devices. Another area that technological sequestration has explored is the introduction of direct air capture, whereby carbon is captured directly from the air using advanced technology plants. However, this process is very expensive and is currently too costly to implement on a mass scale.