Who has made a carbon zero – or negative carbon – commitment so far?

Carbon commitments are being made by different types of organisations and at widely different scales – from country-level to community level. Critical issues around commitments, whether public, corporate or third sector, include:

  • how broad and varied they are: the carbon community distinguishes between scope 1 emissions (direct emissions from the activities of an organisation), scope 2 emissions (indirect emissions from the energy used by the organisation) and scope 3 emissions (all other indirect emissions including travel, waste management, emissions from others within the supply chain, etc.).
  • whether targets and goals are backed up with a credible action plan and the resources (e.g. investment, R&D) to implement this.
  • the timeframe – when will goals be achieved?
  • the timeframe – how long will carbon be stored?
  • the institutional architecture and regimes governing the integrity of negative emissions (including their monitoring and verification);
  • the extent to which they rely on purchasing offsets –paying someone else either to avoid or to sequester their carbon.

What we need in the medium term is a global net-negative commitment. What we have now is the Paris commitment to limit warming to 1.5C, with implied carbon zero sometime between 2050 – 2100. This agreement has been signed by 194 countries and ratified by 188. The number of countries that have adopted an explicit net zero target is between 70–121. Few of these countries have plans – or even the institutional architecture – in place that suggest they know how they will achieve their goal.

Many municipalities have also committed to initiatives that aspire to net zero, including through C40 Cities, and have begun taking steps in this direction. Some even have detailed plans in place (the UK city of Bristol is a good example).

The relationship between country carbon targets and the companies that operate within their border is presently very murky. Several large companies have recently made net zero commitments. Most, but not all, companies have little detailed planning to back up their commitments. The biggest mass commitment to net zero is through the B Corps movement which has facilitated more than 500 of its members signing up to net zero by 2030.