Net zero

Net zero targets are announced almost daily and the term is now synonymous with climate leadership. But what do these targets mean and how can cities, regions, and companies achieve their net zero aspirations?

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Moselle river loop in Trittenheim, Germany

What does net zero mean?

For nations:

A national net zero target requires deep reductions in emissions, with any remaining sources being removed from the atmosphere with greenhouse gas removals. 

Country-level emissions accounting across the world is conducted on a territorial basis, with each country only counting emissions that directly arise from activity within their geographical boundary. This prevents double counting of emissions and also more closely links to levers available at the country level to reduce emissions.  The UK, for example, has set a net zero target for 2050, that relates to its territorial (or production) emissions. 

For cities and regions: 

There isn’t a globally recognised definition of a net zero city or region. We use the following working definition of a net zero city:

‘A net-zero city or region will set and pursue an ambitious 1.5°C-aligned science-based target for all emissions sources covered within the BASIC+ reporting level of the Global Protocol for Community-Scale Greenhouse Gas Emission Inventories (GPC). Any remaining hard-to-decarbonise emissions can be compensated with certified greenhouse gas removal (GGR).’

The BASIC+ level of the GPC includes all Scope 1 and 2 emissions, plus selected Scope 3 emissions, specifically exported waste, T&D and transportation.

We believe it is reasonable for the ‘Other Scope 3 sources’ (such as GHG emissions embodied in investments, water, food and construction materials) to be excluded from the definition of a net zero city. However, we believe a net zero city should pursue all possible efforts to influence and reduce the remaining Scope 3 emissions not captured within the BASIC+ framework.  

For corporates:

A definition of net zero for businesses has yet to be agreed, but the Science Based Targets initiative (SBTi) is seeking to achieve this.

It has proposed a working definition of net zero as: ‘achieving a state in which the activities within the value-chain of a company result in no net impact on the climate from greenhouse gas emissions’ (‘Towards a science-based approach to climate neutrality in the corporate sector’, 2019).

It is currently working on a formal definition, with associated principles and guidelines, incorporating feedback from stakeholders.

We use the following definition of net zero for corporates which is in line with the SBTi’s working definition: 

'A net zero company will set and pursue an ambitious 1.5°C aligned science-based target for its full value-chain emissions. Any remaining hard-to-decarbonise emissions can be compensated using certified greenhouse gas removal.'

There are three key elements required in order to become a net zero emissions company:

  1. The company will set and pursue an ambitious 1.5C aligned science-based target for its full value chain emissions
  2. The boundary must be global scopes 1, 2 and 3 for the organisation
  3. Any remaining hard-to-decarbonise emissions can be compensated with certified greenhouse gas removals (GGR). These should be restricted to only certified methods of GGR, to increase confidence that the carbon is permanently sequestered. Importantly, the company or organisation should make sure that only truly ‘hard-to-decarbonise’ emissions may be compensated.

Read our insight - 'Net zero: an ambition in need of a definition’ - Andie Stephens  outlines the essential elements for any future definition of net zero for the corporate sector.

Why net zero matters

The widespread global adoption of net zero targets is an important lever for driving ambitious climate action. Deep cuts to emissions in line with a 1.5°C pathway and the permanent removal of any remaining greenhouse gases will be needed in order to achieve these targets – both of which are critical to addressing climate change. 

It will undoubtedly require innovation and we are working with a wide range of organisations on projects that are likely to play a significant role in helping achieve net zero ambitions, such as the Flexibility in Great Britain project.

We are working with corporates, institutions and governments around the world to help set rigorous net zero targets and support their delivery.

How we can help

For public bodies: 

Climate action planning

We have developed a framework for the development of Net Zero Climate Strategies and Action Plans with public bodies.

We’ve applied this approach to support the development of more than 30 Net Zero Climate Strategies and Action Plans with local authorities and the wider public sector across the UK and internationally. This includes plans that address Scope 1, 2 and 3 emissions both at the organisational level, and extending to the wider geographic area /jurisdiction of the local authority. 

Some examples of cities and regions that we’ve worked with, or are currently working with include, the City of London, North Tyneside, Leeds City Region, Sheffield City Region, Cardiff Capital Region and Peterborough. 

For corporates:

We can help you set your organisational net zero targets and work with you on establishing a route map to achieving them. We can do this in a number of ways, including:

Footprint measurement and analysis

Net zero encompasses the entire value chain of an organisation, which means a baseline footprint must be established for both operational and value chain emissions. We are leaders in the calculation and assurance of carbon footprints and have worked with thousands of companies to measure and verify their footprints.

Setting science-based targets

Setting science-based targets: science-based targets are stringent emission reduction targets that must be aligned with the aims of the Paris Agreement. Our experts will guide you through the whole process.

Climate change impact evaluation

We can help your organisation analyse business-relevant climate risks and opportunities and ensure the outputs of this analysis feed into your net zero strategy.

The Climate Leadership Framework

The Climate Leadership Framework: our proprietary framework allows us to work with you to assess your company’s climate performance, before creating a bespoke roadmap setting out the key steps in order to comprehensively align to a net zero world by 2050.
 

Podcast: Listen to Pauline Op de Beeck discussing net zero implications for the fashion sector with Innovation Forum

Briefing: Net zero for corporates

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Explore answers to common net zero questions