As climate issues gain more headlines and media awareness, so does the terminology behind these crucial matters. The world is becoming more aware of the dangers of global warming but some parts of this new climate vocabulary can still cause uncertainty.
New words are gaining more ground in our inner lexicon when looking at the current landscape of all content related to climate issues. Words such as carbon-neutral and carbon footprint are receiving much wider exposure in all forms than ever before. While hopefully progressing towards a better future, the term “net-zero” is also becoming more frequently used.
Especially during the COP26 climate meeting in Glasgow, net-zero was and is appearing often on our screens. For some, it is obvious what it stands for, but others might be scratching their head over the differences in meaning when compared to the rest of the popular climate vocabulary.
The difference between carbon-neutral and net-zero
In many cases, this seems to be the key question among people. What is the difference between these two very common and interchangeable terms? Do they mean the same thing, or does it depend on the situation?
As it tends to be on many occasions, the answer is a bit of a yes and no.
Carbon-neutral is used to describe the process of not increasing carbon dioxide emissions and maintaining carbon reduction with the help of offsets. Now, here’s where it gets interesting.
Net-zero basically means the same thing but with one key difference – all emissions are counted for, not just carbon dioxide.
Also, net-zero suggests no offsetting unless it is only a final resort. Reducing emissions to the lowest possible amount through permanent changes, and not just by relying purely on offsets.
What are offsets?
Obviously, this can be confusing if you are not familiar with the term carbon offset. After meaningful emission reduction activities, there is a possibility to compensate for the remaining emissions by funding an equivalent carbon dioxide saving elsewhere.
There is a multitude of ways to reduce greenhouse gas emissions or increase carbon storage, for example, renewable energy sources, such as wind farms, solar energy or forest conservation.
It is also possible to enhance biodiversity through offsetting. This can be done by limiting deforestation and focusing more on afforestation and reforestation. Essentially planting trees and improving soil quality.
The race to carbon neutrality
Despite the difference between the terms, the key issue is still reducing carbon emissions and luckily many countries have and will make tremendous efforts in doing so.
The race to carbon neutrality is becoming more visible. For example, the EU has led by example in setting ambitious targets for reducing net emissions by at least 55% by 2030 compared to 1990. Europe plans to be the first climate-neutral continent by 2050.
European countries are making significant progress. For example, Finland has targeted to become carbon-neutral by 2035, Austria and Iceland by 2040. Germany and Sweden are targeting the year 2045.
Bigger countries with substantially more population, such as the United States and Canada, aim for the year 2050. China and Russia are targeting the year 2060 and India is planning to become carbon neutral by the year 2070.
As it stands right now, there are three countries that are actually removing more carbon emissions than what they emit so they have become carbon negative.
The three countries in question are Bhutan, a small kingdom located in Southern Asia with a population of approximately 770 000 people, Suriname, a small country in South America with a population of approximately 586 000 people. Last by not least, the Central-American Republic of Panama, with a population of approximately four million.
Naturally, these three small countries are exceptions and the global effort among the majority of nations has to be more efficient and focused on getting the job done. Reaching net-zero and carbon neutrality are ambitious targets but also a vital responsibility for our future well-being.