When we talk about "Carbon Neutral” and “Net Zero”. what do we mean?
When we say “zero” they don’t actually expect there to be no emissions. “Net” is a word borrowed from accounting that means the amount remaining after adjustments.
So, “net zero” means that once we have measured how much carbon we’ve produced, and then adjusted that number down by how much we’ve taken out, the amount remaining will be zero. Put simply, we will be removing as much carbon from the atmosphere as we produce.
Once we have gone “net zero” for carbon, we will no longer be contributing towards global warming. When we say carbon, this is actually a shorthand for all greenhouse gases, all the emissions that contribute towards global warming.
Let’s talk about “carbon neutral” next. What does this mean?
Carbon neutral, or carbon neutrality, describes the process of organizations, businesses and individuals taking action to remove the same amount of carbon as they produce. The overall goal being to achieve a net zero carbon footprint. We typically achieve carbon neutrality through a combination of reducing our own carbon footprint and offsetting what we can’t reduce. You can also have carbon neutral projects, events and products.
So, we need all organizations, businesses and individuals to achieve carbon neutrality by 2050 for us to reach net zero emissions in total, for whole the human race. This will stop us from contributing towards global warming and is the first step we need to take to tackle the climate emergency.
If you’re looking to go Carbon Neutral, you will almost certainly need to do some offsetting. In an ideal world we would do it all by reducing our own carbon footprint, and long-term that has to be everyone’s goal. However we can’t wait for the long-term to happen, we need to reduce our overall emissions as quickly as we can. That’s where offsetting comes in.
Offsetting is a way to invest in projects that are reducing carbon emissions somewhere else, usually this is in another part of the world.
One of the good things about carbon savings is that, unlike most other environmental impacts, it doesn’t matter where they happen – global warming is caused by the total amount of carbon in the atmosphere. So, by investing in projects that produce carbon savings somewhere else, we help mitigate the impact of our own emissions.
We generally do this by buying and retiring carbon credits. A single carbon credit has the value of 1 tonne of carbon dioxide equivalent, so if your carbon footprint is 10 tonnes, you would need to by 10 carbon credits to offset it. Not all offsetting projects are created equal and if you are going to do it, it’s really important to know that your offsetting is achieving the desired effect. That’s why I recommend using offsets that have been independently verified by an organisation such as the Gold Standard or the Verified Carbon Standard. One of the good things about these projects is that they often have social, health and economic benefits associated with them too.
Tree planting is another great way to offset, as trees provide huge ecological benefits as well. However, you need to know that a tree is only effective as a carbon offset if it is alive for 100 years so it’s vital that the organisation doing the planting has a way to guarantee this.
"I’d put my money on the sun and solar energy. What a source of power! I hope we don’t have to wait until oil and coal run out before we tackle that."
- Thomas Edison
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