Atlanta, Jan, 23, 2024 – Although carbon neutrality is a hot topic in all international forums, it is worth starting by explaining the term. Achieving carbon neutrality or, in other words, net zero emissions means that a company or industry balances the amount of greenhouse gases it emits with the amount it removes from the atmosphere. In other words, “one hand washes the other”.

Skeptical readers would do well to think that this is a titanic task and an ambitious goal for human beings. And they are not wrong. The point is that humanity has no choice but to achieve it if we want the planet to remain habitable for future generations. There is no planet B.

In a previous article, we already mentioned the measures that companies can take to emit fewer emissions. However, realistically, companies are always going to emit something, so rather than avoiding damage that is unavoidable for the time being, it is advisable not to forget to compensate for it once it has been caused.

How to offset emissions

Apart from (obviously) not emitting emissions, one way to achieve carbon neutrality is to offset the emissions that cannot be eliminated by investing in reforestation projects or carbon capture and storage technologies.

Degradation and deforestation of native forests are the main cause of almost 10% of net carbon dioxide emissions generated globally. Therefore, halting deforestation and promoting forest conservation is vital to enhance their role as a natural solution to climate change.

For their part, many experts trumpet carbon capture and storage as a key technological solution to the climate crisis. In fact, it was the subject of numerous discussions during the last COP26, held in Glasgow.

Without getting too technical, it is a process by which carbon is captured in processes where it is usually released into the atmosphere. It is then transported from the capture point to the storage point: a safe place, often underground. And there it is “locked up”.

A very near horizon

The dates set for achieving net zero emissions vary by region and country. Some have set 2050 at the latest date, while specific companies have defined more ambitious targets. In addition, international initiatives such as the Paris Agreement established general targets to limit global warming, which has encouraged many companies to adopt net zero emissions goals.

However, it is crucial that each company set its own targets and timelines according to its capacity and strategy. Large technology companies have made commitments to achieve carbon neutrality in the coming decades, and some even aspire to be “carbon negative”, i. e. to eliminate more carbon than they emit. In them we trust.

Different countries, different commitments

Concern and commitment to climate change varies around the world. Although all countries are signatories to the Paris Agreement, which aims to limit global warming to below 2°C above pre-industrial levels (and strive to limit it to 1.5°C), the degree of commitment is not uniform. In particular, the following countries and regions stand out:

  • European Union: The EU has taken the lead on climate action and has set ambitious targets to reduce emissions, increase energy efficiency and promote renewable energy. The European Green Pact, announced in 2019, aims to make Europe the first climate-neutral continent by 2050.
  • Scandinavia: Countries such as Sweden, Norway and Denmark are at the forefront in terms of sustainability policies, transition to renewable energies and electric vehicles.
  • United Kingdom: This country has set targets to achieve net zero emissions by 2050 and has made great progress in reducing emissions and increasing renewable energy generation.
  • Canada: Despite the challenges associated with a natural resource-dependent economy, Canada has implemented policies such as a national carbon price and has committed to achieving net zero emissions by 2050.
  • Pacific Islands: Although responsible for a small fraction of global emissions, many Pacific islands are extremely committed to climate change because of the existential threat posed to them by rising sea levels. Countries such as Fiji and the Marshall Islands are strong advocates for emission reductions in international climate negotiations.
  • Costa Rica: It is known for its commitment to sustainability and aims to be a carbon-free economy by 2050.
  • China: As the world’s largest emitter of greenhouse gases, China has taken significant steps in the last decade. It has invested heavily in renewable energy and established a national carbon market. In 2020, President Xi Jinping announced that China would strive to reach peak carbon emissions by 2030 and achieve carbon neutrality by 2060.

It is worth mentioning that climate action is not limited to national governments. Many cities, states, or regions within countries, as well as companies and civil organizations, are taking leadership roles, setting net zero emissions targets, investing in renewable energy, and promoting sustainable practices.

Official certifications

There would be no point in a company claiming to be taking steps towards carbon neutrality if there were no entities and organizations to audit and certify these efforts related to sustainability and climate change.

These organizations typically assess the accuracy of reported emissions, compliance with sustainable objectives and other aspects related to environmental, social and governance (ESG) practices. Some of the most recognized organizations include:

  • The Carbon Trust: UK-based organization that provides certification and consulting services for companies that want to reduce their carbon footprint and improve their sustainability.
  • The Gold Standard: This organization certifies carbon reduction projects that meet rigorous sustainability criteria and generate social benefits.
  • Verra (formerly VCS – Verified Carbon Standard): It provides certification for projects that reduce or eliminate greenhouse gas emissions.
  • BREEAM: One of the main methods for assessing, rating, and certifying the sustainability of buildings.
  • LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design): A widely recognized certification system for buildings and communities that promote sustainability strategies.
  • Science Based Targets (SBTi): Cooperation between CDP, UN Global Compact, the World Resources Institute (WRI) and the World Wildlife Fund (WWF). It helps companies set science-based emission reduction targets to be in line with the Paris Agreement.
  • CDP (formerly Carbon Disclosure Project): International organization that collects and publishes data on emissions, climate-related risks and opportunities for companies, cities, and regions.

It is important to note that while some certifications are indicative of genuine sustainability practices, others can be labeled as greenwashing – a form of deceptive marketing where green credentials are exaggerated or misrepresented. It can also involve changing the packaging of an existing product while continuing to use unsustainable ingredients or practices.

Companies across industries must avoid falling into this green opportunism, as it fuels consumer skepticism about companies’ good intentions, undermining customers’ ability to demand products that are actually less harmful to the planet.

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