What Is a Net-Zero Emissions Pledge

As climate change continues to affect all areas of the world, the need for net-zero emissions pledges continues to grow.

As climate change continues to affect all areas of the world, the need for net-zero emissions pledges continues to grow. Countries are pledging to reach net-zero by specific dates, with the US pledging a deadline of 2050 and China pledging a date of 2060

To reach this goal, companies must cooperate by setting their net-zero pledges. Governments cannot accomplish their lofty goals alone. 

What is a Net-Zero Pledge?

When countries and businesses commit to a net-zero pledge, they are working to reduce their carbon emissions to a net-zero level. The rationale for this goal is to bring down global temperatures to within 1.5 °C of pre-industrial levels. 

Unfortunately, countries and businesses have some uncertainty about how to achieve the goal. Part of the problem includes the CO2 emissions that already exist in the atmosphere. A net-zero goal does not remove those from the atmosphere. But, reducing new emissions can help reduce global warming. 

Net-zero emissions also involve reducing other harmful greenhouse gases. For example, some countries have minimal regulations about methane or nitrous oxide. Making a net-zero pledge means that a business will reduce how much toxic gas they emit into the atmosphere. 

How to Measure a Net-Zero Pledge?

To make the pledge meaningful, businesses need to reach small milestones along the way to the major deadline. Governments and large corporations need to set these small milestones as a way to prove they are on route to their deadlines. They also need to define what net-zero means to them. 

For example, some companies are deciding to remove greenhouse gases from their manufacturing practices. Others are working to clean up the gases they have already emitted. Some are pledging to work only with other companies that do not use greenhouse gases, as a way to invest in clean manufacturing. 

What does Net-Zero Mean?

The struggle with the pledge is in understanding what “net” means. Ideally, governments and companies should get to a zero balance between the emissions they clean up and the emissions they produce. Ideally, they should not add any new emissions to the environment. 

In 2020, the Kyoto Climate Protocol agreement expired, so countries could not balance each other out. Before the agreement expired, countries with high emissions were balanced by those with minimal emissions. Now, all countries need to help slow and reverse global warming trends. 

During the Kyoto Climate Protocol agreements, countries traded carbon as a commodity. Countries exchanged carbon numbers so that high-emitting countries did not have to change their manufacturing practices. Countries with high numbers could earn credits toward their emissions by planting trees or helping other countries keep their numbers low. 

Over the years, the carbon exchanges may have been a good idea in theory, but climate change has rapidly worsened. So, countries and large manufacturers need to do better. Everyone needs to take responsibility for the future of the planet. 

Unfortunately, the term net-zero does apply to the former protocols, as high-emitters could reach “net-zero” by making exchanges with low emitters. High-emitting countries now have to work harder to achieve the new goal of getting back to average pre-industrial temperatures. 

Why the Net-Zero Pledge Matters

Therefore, each country now has to reach net-zero on its own. If countries and companies do not reach the goal, climate problems will continue to plague vulnerable populations, and the problems will spread to wealthy, industrialized nations, too. 

Countries need to share their methods for decarbonizing. Despite each country having to reach the goal on their own, they can all benefit from sharing their methods. With transparency, researchers can study and learn how industries can develop manufacturing methods that reach the Paris Climate Agreement’s goal

Governments need to show where they are investing and incentivizing net-zero manufacturing. They also need to share the methods that encourage consumers to buy into the net-zero pledges themselves. If consumers continue to purchase products from high-emitting companies, reaching the net-zero goal will be difficult. 

Standing Behind the Pledge

Pledging is one thing. Accomplishing it is another. To achieve the pledge, companies and countries need to believe they can make a difference in global warming. Then, they need to set a hard number for reducing greenhouse gas emissions. Without solidarity and milestones along the way, climate change will worsen. 


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