“For a livable climate, Net-Zero commitments must be backed by credible action” – UN Net-Zero Coalition. In order to achieve a Net-Zero emissions environment, rapid transformation is needed across all global systems, from manufacturing and energy production to restoring ecological systems and changing transportation systems. Despite the monumental challenge, solutions exist.
What is Net-Zero Greenhouse Gas (GHG) emissions? It’s striking a balance between how much atmospheric GHG is being emitted into the atmosphere and the amount that is removed through natural and human-made systems.
Recent accounts from global databases have shown the need to achieve Net-Zero is urgent. As of May 2023, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) recorded global average surface temperatures above the 20th-century average. While fluctuations due to natural events are a contributing factor (the current El Nino event taking place over Northern and Central America), the rapid increase and consistency of higher temperatures are irrefutable. To keep global warming to no more than 1.5°C (as called for in the Paris Agreement) global GHG emission reductions must be big – almost cut in half by 2030 – to keep us on track to meet a Net-Zero GHG emissions target by 2050. The good news is that tangible strategies exist today to start working toward Net-Zero.
Actionable strategies for achieving net-zero emissions targets
Achieving net-zero emissions targets requires bold action from all stakeholders, and the effort must be ambitious if we are to reach both the 2030 and 2050 targets. Below are key actions that, if considered and built into a Net-Zero GHG emissions strategy, can produce significant progress toward a Net-Zero GHG economy:
Set Credible, Science-based, Time-bound Targets – Setting Science-based targets requires a multi-stakeholder approach and bold, ambitious commitments that uphold veracity toward positive change. One of the foremost standards to provide credibility to a company’s Net-Zero GHG efforts is the Science Based Targets Corporate Net-Zero Standard, which helps guide target setting aligned with limiting global warming to 1.5°C by 2050 through reducing total GHG emissions.
Tackle Scope 1 and 2 Emissions Immediately: This suggestion might seem obvious, but significant progress is still needed to achieve the interim 2030 reduction target. Companies can begin by understanding their baseline emissions through GHG Inventories and LCIA (Life Cycle Impact Assessments) on products, sites, or entire corporate operations using the GHG Protocol standards for tracking Scope 1, 2, and 3 emissions. Once a baseline is in place, organizations can make informed decisions on where to spend their time, effort, and financial resources. Tangible initiatives can include improving energy efficiency in buildings, purchasing 100% renewable energy, improving employee travel policies, incentivizing cleaner forms of employee commuting, and engaging in circularity practices.
Partner To Reduce Scope 3 Emissions – Recognizing and tackling Scope 3 emissions is necessary to achieve Net-Zero by 2050 and, at the same time, is possibly one of the most difficult initiatives to advance. For the most part, Scope 3 emissions exist in supply chains and tangible options exist to reduce emissions. For example, providing technical assistance to your suppliers to advance climate and sustainability programs, incorporating sustainability requirements into purchasing contracts, working with suppliers – like Ford has done – to reduce targeted emission categories, implementing supplier engagement programs, and deploying supplier software platforms such as CDP’s supply chain or EcoVadis will help move the emissions needle. The solutions to track scope 3 emissions are evolving fast but remember – your scope 3 emissions are someone else’s scope 1 and 2.
Improve Material Use Efficiency: If you are a brand, manufacturer or even a real estate owner, one of the most significant actions that can be taken to achieve Net-Zero GHG emissions is to incorporate materials that have less embodied carbon. For example, 83% of the real estate industry emissions are Scope 3, much of it coming from materials. It’s important to think about designing products that use less material, incorporating materials with lower emissions profiles, and extending the life of products through remanufacturing, reuse, upcycling and different business models that extend the life of a product.
Invest In The Low-carbon Workforce: Adapting to the climate-conscious mindset of Gen Z (those 25 and under just entering the workforce) and millennials by investing in Net-Zero efforts will likely help with talent attraction and retention moving forward. This can be achieved by actively engaging in many of the recommendations highlighted in this article, in addition to having public, timebound, and publicly reported commitments. Additionally, some employee benefits can be refocused that include 401K investing in sustainability-focused portfolios, promoting the use of public transport and providing opportunities to engage in the outdoors.
Deploy Decarbonization Technologies: Many advanced technologies that have been developed over the last few decades are now commercially available and ready to deploy at scale. And, recent Inflation Reduction Act incentives, in addition to solar and wind providing the cheapest power for most of the world, make investing in decarbonization technologies even more attractive. Depending on the industry that you operate in, these technologies can include electric vehicle fleets, on-site renewable energy production, energy storage , and industrial heat pumps, among others. Overall, focus on replacing older equipment with technology that runs on electricity and then souring the energy from on-site or purchased renewables.
Implement Carbon Sequestration Practices: Improving green spaces and restoring degraded ecosystems can help return some of nature’s ability to mitigate and regulate the effect of excessive GHG emissions. A company may invest in conservation and regreening programs that restore degraded wetlands, reestablish forests or prairies, and enhance biodiversity. Additionally, other carbon removal technologies such as soil carbon sequestration, biochar, and carbon mineralization can be invested in or deployed depending on your business model.
Achieving Net-Zero GHG emissions will require bold, transformative, and collective efforts. It won’t be easy but it is completely possible. Most importantly, commitments and targets are not enough. Significant action, utilizing many of the strategies outlined above, will be required.
Fresh Coast Climate Solutions has the expertise to support you through your Net-Zero GHG emission journey, providing guidance and technical expertise to turn your company’s Net-Zero commitments into action. For more information on how Fresh Coast can assist you, contact Nick Kemp.
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