Should we bin the phrase ‘Net Zero’?
At the weekend I was listening to a debate on Net Zero on the Lib Dem Podcast (I’m a party member). During the debate, veteran commentator Tom Burke suggested we should ditch ‘Net Zero’ on the grounds that there was yet another scandal brewing in the world of offsets. By doing so, Burke was implying that ‘Net Zero’ meant the same as ‘Carbon Neutral’, which only had a token nod to reducing emissions before reaching for the offsets.
Net Zero, as the name implies, has a stronger emphasis on getting towards zero emissions, but its main weakness is that we don’t yet have an agreed reductions:offsets ratio. The Science-based Targets Initiative has calculated that 90% should be the minimum level of offsets and I for one would like to see this hardwired into ‘Net Zero’. As I said last week, business is increasing integrating Science Based Targets into Net Zero to provide a hard carbon reduction trajectory behind the big totemic target.
One of the big strengths of ‘Net Zero’ are the power of that word ‘Zero’ compared to the much more insipid ‘Neutral’. The UK Government’s ‘Net Zero by 2050’ target just sounds so much more of a mission than the ‘80% reduction by 2050’ that predated it and still underpins it. So much so, the reactionary right has formed at least two anti-Net Zero groups, a Tufton Street junktank called Net Zero Watch and the Net Zero Scrutiny Group of backbench Tory MPs. They wouldn’t be that scared if Net Zero was just about tree planting – they know this means big change.
So while I’ve got a lot of time and respect for Tom Burke, I strongly believe that Net Zero is the strongest climate action brand we have – after all 90% of the world’s economy falls under a Net Zero target. Time to strengthen this commitment, not rip it up and start again.
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