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To solve the climate crisis, we need a real zero, not a “net zero”

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The good news? The climate crisis is finally taking center stage. The bad news? Net zero, if it is made up of hollow pledges, will not solve it.

Action during this decade to reduce carbon emissions is crucial to protect the planet from global warming. The Paris Agreement calls for an 80 percent reduction in carbon emissions by 2030 on a 2005 baseline to prevent global warming above 1.5 degrees Celsius, or 2.7 degrees Fahrenheit.

Many companies have also presented climate commitments they plan to make by 2050, which is too far away given what current science calls for; the action of this decade is crucial.

Academics, activists, non-governmental organizations, policymakers and scientists have expressed concern that the net zero commitments of governments and businesses alone will not meet the Accord commitments. from Paris. Industries include agriculture and aviation, finance and fossil fuels, as well as retail and technology.

In January 2021, the Sierra Club released a report highlighting how the climate commitments of utilities in the United States are failing to meet Paris Agreement targets. Last fall, Oil Change International released a report backed by many other organizations outlining how the oil industry’s commitments are falling apart.

Companies often use accounting tricks to meet their climate commitments. These tips include carbon offsets, such as harvesting trees or the oceans, or new technological innovations, such as carbon removal programs.

In April 2021, Robert Watson, former chairman of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, co-authored an article with two other scientists, which called net zero a “dangerous trap” set by governments and companies and “a blank check for the continued burning of fossil fuels and the acceleration of habitat destruction.”

The problem with net zero is that it focuses on offsets rather than reductions in carbon emissions. This allows carbon emissions to continue, and it allows business as usual to continue.

It’s a delaying tactic that the fossil fuel industries have mastered (see also: climate denial).

As many activists have argued for decades, avoiding the current global warming requires “system change, not climate change”.


Another area of ​​concern regarding emission pledges is the lack of intermediate targets. If the goal is to reduce emissions by an amount X by, say, 2030, what is the benchmark of progress for 2022, for 2023, etc., and who will check that?

Many companies have also presented climate commitments they plan to make by 2050, which is too far away given what current science calls for; the action of this decade is crucial.

A recently published report titled “The Big Con: How Big Polluters Are Advancing a ‘Net Zero’ Climate Agenda to Delay, Deceive, and Deny” was published by Corporate Accountability, Friends of the Earth International and the Global Forest Coalition. The report has been endorsed by more than sixty environmental organizations, including the Institute for Policy Studies, OilWatch, and the Third World Network.

The report draws attention to what it calls “dangerous distractions from big polluters,” which include “geoengineering technologies and deeply flawed schematics.” Technologies include biomass or bioenergy, which draws energy from natural sources, including the burning of trees; and, and carbon capture and storage, by sucking CO2 from the air and storing it in the soil.

Co-author Coraina De la Plaza, climate activist for the Global Forest Coalition, said: “We are deeply concerned about the corporate capture of climate policy and finance, and the growing link between governments and communities. companies to promote false solutions via net zero. Instead of drastically reducing emissions, they continue to pursue neocolonial ‘green’ offset programs to reap more profits and pollute through forest offsets, afforestation, reforestation, tree plantations and dangerous technological solutions. . This net zero circus must end: the planet and the people need real and ambitious goals and commitments, real emissions. “

People in so-called developing countries, many of whom have already suffered the effects of climate change disproportionately, are more intensely affected by carbon offset projects as they are forced off the land for tree plantations.

As Meena Raman, with the supporting organization Third World Network, put it: “As big polluters hide behind bogus claims of support for climate action, they plan to do more damage by pushing projects. carbon offsets in developing countries, leading to more forest and land grabbing. Such efforts promote climate injustice and will have an impact on poor communities and indigenous peoples in countries of the South. It must stop.

It does. The question is how.


Globally, there is not enough land available to accommodate plans by governments and businesses to plant trees as compensation. Net zero also exacerbates global and historical inequalities. It enables nations and businesses in the Global North to continue to burn fossil fuels while using the forests and lands of the Global South as carbon sinks.

“The proclamations of Net Zero goals are dangerous disappointments,” said Lidy Nacpil, coordinator of the Asian Peoples’ Movement on Debt and Development. “Net Zero sounds ambitious and visionary, but it actually allows big polluters and rich governments to keep emitting. [greenhouse gasses], which they say will be wiped out by unproven and dangerous technologies, carbon trading and offsets that shift the burden of climate action to countries in the South. “

According to her, “Big polluters and rich governments should not only reduce their emissions to Real Zero, they must pay reparations for the enormous climate debt owed to the countries of the South. “

So what is the solution?

Emissions should be reduced to real zero, not net zero. In addition, climate justice and social justice, both historic and current, must be centered. This means that nations and companies disproportionately responsible for emissions should take into account historical inequalities and make even more ambitious and proportionate efforts to reduce emissions. The report recalls that “only 100 companies are responsible for 70% of historical emissions. “

Finally, the wealthiest nations and countries should fund the efforts of nations and communities most affected but least financially capable of dealing with them. Obviously, neither of the latter two efforts should count towards the need to cut emissions to what is needed: actual zero.

“People around the world have already made their demands clear,” notes the “Big Con” report. “Leaders can listen to the people and, once and for all, prioritize the lives of people and the planet over the engines of profit and destruction. To avoid social and planetary collapse, they must heed the appeals of millions of people around the world and pursue policies that allow our economies to dispense with fossil fuels in a fair and equitable manner and deliver real solutions that give rise to the priority to life now. ”


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