The world needs to reach net zero carbon by the second half of this century
Our aim is to help you understand what net zero means and how different technologies and approaches can help us to get there. We have prioritised clarity over complexity as we believe that confusion and a lack of shared understanding about where we are, where we need to be, and what is possible is causing unnecessary - and dangerous - delays to action.
We are not proponents of any particular technology. Indeed, our guiding philosophy is that we need to double down on almost all the available and emerging options to give us a chance of achieving our target and securing our planetary future. This is an approach that we term climate maximalism.
The idea of net zero carbon implies that we end the continuous increase in the concentration of carbon dioxide molecules in the atmosphere. Any emissions that are produced at this point must be counter-balanced by equivalent carbon drawdown. Net-negative implies that we will go beyond this and begin to reduce the atmospheric concentrations of carbon.
It is our belief that given current and short-term emissions levels, we need to pursue a net-negative approach (i.e. set our aspirations beyond net zero) for the medium term in order to restore equilibrium to our natural systems. Indeed, even to get to net zero, we will need to deploy negative emissions technologies as there will always be residual emissions to be countered.
This website is agnostic about particular technologies and approaches – though we do discuss the challenges faced by different options. It also goes beyond actual negative emissions technologies (intentional human efforts to remove CO2 from the atmosphere) to address natural carbon sequestration options (storing carbon in biomass – trees and soil in particular) and carbon avoidance.
Carbon avoidance implies that less carbon is produced than would have been the case through business as usual. Avoiding or reducing carbon emissions is a necessary first step on the journey to zero emissions systems and one that has been neglected for too long. There is clearly huge scope for reducing our carbon emissions – through increased efficiency and a massive switch to renewable forms of energy – while we work on net-negative technologies. The less carbon we release into the atmosphere, the less work we ultimately have to do to remove it.
This links to the notion of a carbon budget - the cumulative amount of greenhouse gases that we can emit to keep within a manageable temperature threshold
Presently, the goal is to have a high chance of limiting warming to 1.5-2oC). At this level, climate change already causes significant economic costs and human suffering / displacement, partly because this figure is a global average (different geographies will see more or less change with lower and higher spikes) and partly because people in fragile environments have no resilience to even the smallest changes in weather.
Unsurprisingly, there is uncertainty as to how large our remaining carbon budget is - partly due to unpredictable climate tipping points and partly due to the inherent complexity of the global climate system. How quickly we use up that budget depends on the choices we make, the technologies we deploy and the response of the natural environment.