Carbon Neutral vs Net Zero

What is the difference between carbon neutral and net zero?

As the ramifications of climate change rise, as do the pledges from governments and businesses to fortify our global response. But with new regulations and buzzwords emerging, it can be difficult to get to grips with what these commitments mean.

Two terms in particular – carbon neutral and net zero carbon – are often used interchangeably but in reality, embody two very different approaches to tackling the climate crisis.

  • Carbon neutral – any CO2 released into the atmosphere from an organisation’s activities is balanced by an equivalent amount removed
  • Climate positive – activities go beyond achieving net zero carbon emissions to create environmental benefits by removing additional CO2 from the atmosphere
  • Carbon negative – means the same as climate positive
  • Climate neutral – reducing all GHG to the point of zero while eliminating all other negative environmental impacts that an organisation causes
  • Net zero emissions – balance the whole amount of GHG released and the amount removed from the atmosphere

What is carbon neutral?

Carbon neutral refers to when the amount of carbon dioxide (CO2) emitted is equivalent to the amount of carbon that’s absorbed from the atmosphere. This can be done through carbon sinks, such as forests – or offsetting – which absorb and store more CO2 from the atmosphere than they produce.

To become carbon neutral, the first step is to reduce your carbon emissions by as much as possible. You can then invest in carbon sinks (offsets) to counteract any remaining emissions. For carbon offsetting to count, this must be permanent and accredited, or licensed, and can be achieved through purchasing carbon credits.

If all of the CO2 emissions released are equal to the amount that are reduced through carbon offsetting, a company is then considered to be carbon neutral.

It’s impossible to generate zero carbon emissions, so offsetting is a viable approach to achieve carbon neutral status. It sends a positive message to your customers and the community that you’re committed to fuelling a cleaner future.

While becoming carbon neutral is valuable, it isn’t enough to tackle climate change alone. Businesses that seek to just become carbon neutral rather than net zero carbon are often accused of ‘greenwashing’ even when their efforts are sincere. Therefore, when tackling climate change, a company’s ultimate mission should always be net zero.

carbon neutral vs net zero

A carbon sink refers to any systems that absorb more carbon from the atmosphere than produced, such as forests, soil and oceans.

What is net zero?

With the UK government setting a target to achieve net zero direct emissions by 2050, we’ve all heard the term, but what exactly does it mean? Put simply, net zero refers to achieving a balance between the amount of greenhouse gases produced and the amount removed from the atmosphere (the sum is no more than the amount taken away). Any remaining emissions can then be offset.

Why is net zero important?

Net zero is the most effective way to tackle climate change by reducing global warming. Scientific evidence shows that to reduce the worst effects of climate change, global temperature increase needs to be limited to 1.5oC above pre-industrial levels (as outlined in the Paris Agreement).

To do this, global emissions must be reduced by 45% by 2030 and reach net zero by 2050. Over 190 countries have adopted the Paris Agreement, a legally binding international treaty on climate change reached at COP21 in 2015.

What is the difference between net zero and gross zero?

You might be wondering why we aren’t aiming for zero, or gross zero. Gross zero means preventing emissions altogether which simply isn’t realistically attainable across all aspects and sectors of industry and human life. Even with the best efforts to reduce GHG emissions, there will always be some that remain. Therefore, net zero considers overall emissions, allowing for the removal of unavoidable emissions through offsetting or new technology.

How can net zero be achieved?

Achieving net zero emissions is one of the greatest encounters humankind has ever faced. Businesses have the power to drive positive change by reducing their emissions to the lowest level through increasing energy efficiency, reducing non-recyclable waste and using carbon capture measures.

Net zero requires:

  • Innovative solutions
  • New measures
  • Aggressive policies
  • Effort at both work and at home

We all have a huge part to play in tackling climate change. From switching to a renewable fuel such as HVO to offsetting your entire emissions, there are lots of ways you can lessen your environmental impact. Call 0333 200 5005 to find out more.

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