This article looks into net zero 2050 pledges and asks the following; are these dead and have they been killed by net zero 2030 pledges?
With the recent climate strike protests and the upcoming Climate Week series of events which run alongside the UN General Assembly, this is certainly a moment when climate change is receiving more attention than ever.
As the chart below makes clear, we are at a moment in time when a number of different emissions pathways lie ahead. Some of these are disastrous and some of these are more hopeful.
The way emissions pathways work means that actions taken right now make a big difference. The further into the century you get without reducing emissions, the faster you then have to cut them.
This brings me to the substantive point of my article, which is around the 2050 net zero pledges that have begun to abound. Can these pledges really be considered the gold standard when a new type of pledge has begun to arise? There have been a series of pledges by organisations committing achieving net zero carbon emissions by 2030. This is twenty years earlier than the IPCC recommends. We will look into a few examples in this article.
Before we get into the detail of which organisations have made specific 2030 pledges, it is important to define what net zero emissions actually means. For this I will turn to the always excellent Grantham Institute, who have produced the following quotation
“‘Net zero’ refers to achieving an overall balance between emissions produced and emissions taken out of the atmosphere. Like a bath with the taps on, an approach to achieving this balance can either be to turn down the taps (the emissions) or to drain an equal amount down the plug (removals of emissions from the atmosphere, including storage for the emissions such as ‘carbon sinks’).”
As we can see, organisations aiming for net zero emissions targets can achieve this through a balance of reducing emission and storage of emissions. This should make it possible for any business regardless of their business model to achieve this at some point. The time frame would depend on how ambitious they are.
The University of Leeds
As a former student, I was excited to see the University of Leeds come out with a series of ambitious sustainability principles this week. The first principle is around their climate commitments and I will post that in full below:
“We shall prepare our next Climate Plan and sustainability strategy with a view to securing a net-zero carbon footprint by 2030 (twenty years earlier than the IPCC recommends). Furthermore, although we cannot yet guarantee to achieve it, it is our aim as an institution to have no direct carbon emissions by 2050.”
This is a really ambitious 2 stage target. The most eye catching of which is the 2030 net zero carbon footprint ambition. Although at a later date, the 2050 aim to have no direct emissions is also ambitious.
Great Portland Estates
Great Portland Estates are another organisation that recently announced ambitious 2030 net zero targets. You can find these below:
For all new build developments completed from 2030 to be net zero carbon
To set out our approach and timescale to become a net zero carbon business.
These are ambitious targets that will take a lot of work to achieve.
JLL also recently announced a 2030 net zero commitment, theirs is as follows:
“By 2030, only occupy workplaces which are net zero carbon in operation. Measure upfront embodied carbon in JLL’s own workplace fitouts, with a view to halving the impact by 2030.”
This is a similarly challenging commitment, that will require a lot of work to achieve.
Another business that has announced a raft of ambitious 2030 commitments is OVO energy. Their plan consists of 6 commitments, but I will post their net zero 2030 commitment below:
“Achieve net zero carbon operations underpinned by science-based targets set for emissions associated with powering and heating our buildings and our fleet and offsets for the remainder.”
This is another challenging target. It does have quite a specific scope, but it should lead to real and meaningful change.
What you need to know
This article looked into net zero 2050 commitments in the light of a raft of recent 2030 net zero commitments. It is clear that the new gold standard in climate leadership is a net zero 2030 commitment. This is partially because of its date 20 years before that recommended by the IPCC, but is also because this level of ambition is necessary. The best time to start reducing emissions is right now.
From all of the examples that we looked at one thing is clear. These are ambitious targets that may very well not be achieved. But the reason you set a target, should not be because it is so easy that you will definitely achieve it. You should set a target because it is ambitious and it will inspire your employees and stakeholders to make the previously impossible possible.
Thank you for reading,
By Barnaby Nash
Please share your thoughts in the comments section below, or reach out to me on social media. What do you think about net zero 2030 targets?
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