Race to Net Zero – Making sense of the jargon

Guest blog by CGI’s Pulina Abeywickrama, SME Senior Consultant | Agile Project Manager

Having recently been part of the CGI team facilitating a design sprint on how to accelerate Net Zero at the NWG Innovation Festival, it was very clear to me how easy it can be for someone to feel bamboozled by the latest buzzwords, while trying to make sense of Net Zero, Target 2030, Target 2050, Carbon Neutral, Carbon Credit or Carbon Budget. On social media in particular, some talk about their plans to achieve Net Zero by 2030, whilst others are referring to being in line with Net Zero targets by 2050 or to becoming carbon negative by aiming to remove all carbon dioxide they have released into the atmosphere by 2050.

Whether you are just starting out on your Net Zero journey, or want to take your strategy to the next level, you may be wondering what all of this jargon really means.

Let’s start by acknowledging the June 2019 announcement from the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS), which states that “The UK has become the first major economy in the world to pass laws to end its contribution to global warming by 2050”. It also outlines that “The target will require the UK to bring all greenhouse gas emissions to Net Zero by 2050, compared with the previous target of at least 80% reduction from 1990 levels”.

However, when it comes to defining ‘Net Zero’, there are different interpretations of what this means.  Let us clarify some of the key terms to gain a better understanding:

Net Zero

The Institute for Government, the leading think tank working to make government more effective, defines Net Zero as “achieving a balance between the amount of greenhouse gas emissions produced and the amount removed from the atmosphere” and states two routes to achieving it: “reducing existing emissions and actively removing greenhouse gases”, where both must work in tandem.

Carbon Neutral

Carbon neutrality is about having a Net Zero balance between carbon emissions and carbon removal, often through carbon offsetting, or simply eliminating carbon emissions altogether by investing in approaches and technologies that don’t contribute to climate change in the first place, such as, reducing the need for energy by becoming more efficient, and sourcing energy from no-and-low carbon sources.  Carbon neutrality is one subset of Net Zero.

Carbon Offsetting

Carbon offsetting is the approach to compensate for carbon dioxide emissions.  Most companies do this by participating in schemes designed to make equivalent reductions of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. At present, carbon offsetting is usually achieved through tree planting schemes or the purchase of carbon credit.

Carbon Credit

A generic term for any government-issued tradable certificate. Each permit allows an organisation to emit one tonne of CO2 or the mass of another greenhouse gas with a carbon dioxide equivalent (tCO2e) equal to one tonne of carbon dioxide.  Organisations that don’t use their allocated permitted emissions can trade their certificates with companies that have exceed their allocation.  This can help to justify investment in approaches and technologies that don’t contribute to climate change in the first place.

Now, If you are a business leader, serious about your environmental and sustainability agenda and who doesn’t want to get caught off guard by soon to be announced legislation on NetZero, then read on, as you will need to consider all of the following:

Target 2030

As per the ‘Fifth carbon budget’ in 2016 , the UK government was aiming to reduce emissions that contribute to climate change by 57% by 2030 and 80% by 2050, relative to 1990 levels. However, there are new legally binding targets due to be released by the Committee on Climate Change (the UK’s independent climate advisory body) in December 2020.

NetZero Target 2050

The Climate Change Act 2008 committed the UK to an 80% reduction in carbon emissions relative to 1990 levels, to be achieved by 2050. In June 2019, secondary legislation was passed that extended that target to be “at least 100%”, making the UK the first major economy in the world to legislate for a Net Zero target for greenhouse gas emissions by 2050, under advice from the Committee on Climate Change. The new legislation is designed to keep the UK in line with the commitments it made as part of the Paris Agreement that came into force in November 2016, to keep global warming under 2 degrees.

Sixth Carbon Budget

The Sixth Carbon Budget , mandatory under the Climate Change Act, is due to be released by the Committee on Climate Change in December 2020 (delayed from September 2020). The release is expected to provide the government with advice on the volume of greenhouse gases the UK can emit during the period 2033-2037, as well as pave the way to the UK’s new NetZero emissions target in 2050.

Environment Bill 2020

In early August 2020, the UK government announced its plans to set out how it will use ambitious, legally binding targets under its landmark Environment Bill 2020 policy paper to combat the environmental and climate challenges we face.

These long-term targets are structured in such a way to be supported by interim targets to ensure that the UK stays on track whilst focusing on four priority areas: 1) air quality, 2) resource efficiency and waste reduction, 3) biodiversity and 4) water.

At this point you might ask, ‘why can’t I just pay someone to plant a few trees and call it a day?’

Well, delivering on today’s environment and sustainability agendas will need more than planting a few trees or buying Carbon Credits.

There are a range of actions you and your organisation can take immediately, to keep on top of the targets and legislation, like applying changes to key areas, such as energy usage, transportation, waste management, property management and encouragement of lifestyle change. But whatever you do, you need a clear plan to achieve Net Zero.

For more information about how to develop and implement your Net Zero strategy, get in touch now.

This is the first blog in the CGI Race to Net Zero series, look out for more.

For more information on this topic or CGI’s relationship with Dynamo North East, please contact Mark Thompson: mark.thompson1@cgi.com

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