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Net Zero: What Does It Mean, and How Can We Achieve It?

Tackling climate change is a top priority for many countries, companies and individuals worldwide. We’re all under increasing pressure to be mindful of our carbon footprint. 

April 2024 has been recorded as the hottest on record, marking the eleventh month in a row where temperatures have surpassed levels dating back to 1940. 

With floods, storms and droughts occurring more frequently, global governments are feeling pressured to set out carbon-cutting plans. If you’re interested in keeping up with climate change mitigation efforts, an understanding of net zero policies is essential. 

What is net zero? 

Net zero is the balance between the total amount of greenhouse gas emissions produced and the amount removed from Earth’s atmosphere. Essentially, a country achieves net zero when its total emissions are equal to the emissions it offsets. 

What needs to be done to reach net zero emissions?

For a country to reach net zero, comprehensive strategies must be implemented across various sectors of the economy, including energy, transport, industry, and agriculture.

In the UK, the Net Zero Strategy and subsequent updates like the Net Zero Growth Plan outline the nation’s approach to achieving this goal by 2050. 

These strategies include measures like increasing the deployment of renewable energy sources, improving energy efficiency, transitioning to electric vehicles, and supporting innovation in green technologies. 

However, it also requires public engagement and behavioural changes, like the widespread adoption of energy-efficient practices. 

Why is net zero important? 

Net zero targets represent our best chance to mitigate the impact of climate change, and the stakes are exceedingly high.

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has warned that if the rise in global temperatures is not limited to 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels, disastrous climate changes could be imminent. 

From irreversible effects on ecosystems to more frequent, extreme weather events, climate change mitigation policies are a moral imperative to ensure a livable planet for future generations. 

When does the world need to reach net zero emissions?

Realistically, the world needs to reach net zero emissions by 2050 to truly have an impact. 

The 2050 target is central to the Paris Agreement, which aims to limit global temperature rise to well below 2 degrees Celsius. 

Reports from the IPCC indicate that limiting warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius would significantly reduce the risks and impacts of climate change.

What is being done to combat climate change on a global scale?

To align with the objectives of the Paris Agreement, the UK launched its Net Zero by 2050 plan in 2019. 

The nationwide strategy involves tactics like reducing emissions through cleaner energy sources, enhancing energy efficiency and developing new, green technologies. 

Specific milestones include phasing out coal-fired power plants by the end of 2024 and banning the sale of new petrol and diesel cars by 2030.

Globally, other countries have set similar targets. For example, the European Union aims to become climate-neutral by 2050, with targets to cut emissions by at least 55% by 2030 compared to 1990 levels.

In the US, policymakers opted to rejoin the Paris Agreement in 2021, setting goals to reach net zero emissions by 2050. 

The world’s largest emitter of fossil fuels, China, has also outlined ambitious targets to peak its carbon emissions before 2030 and achieve carbon neutrality by 2060

Achieving these targets requires a rapid expansion of renewable energy sources (e.g., solar and wind), as well as innovations in energy storage, electrification of transportation, and improvements in energy efficiency across all sectors. 

Governments and industries must collaborate to invest in and deploy these technologies while also supporting policies that incentivise green investments. 

Is the world on track to reach net zero emissions on time?

No, not as of 2024. 

According to the IEA, achieving net zero by mid-century necessitates unprecedented expansion in renewable energy capacity, with annual additions of 630 gigawatts of solar photovoltaics and 390 gigawatts of wind power required by 2030. 

Despite some progress, the deployment rates of these technologies are still lagging behind the necessary pace​. 

In the UK, the High Court has ruled the government’s Net Zero 2050 plan as ‘unlawful’, stating that it leaves out key information on how targets would be achieved. 

They make specific reference to the lack of transparency surrounding budgetary requirements and have ordered the report to be redrafted within the next year.

What does net zero look like in practice?

While net zero goals are straightforward on paper, implementing them on a global scale has proved to be complex yet worthwhile.  

  • Business targets 

Industries in both public and private sectors must now adhere to climate-conscious targets. 

While the government takes responsibility for reducing emissions in the transport and energy sector, private sector businesses are offered financial incentives (e.g., tax rebates) to reduce their carbon footprint. 

  • Removing carbon emissions

Net zero targets aren’t just about reducing emissions; the end goal is to remove them from the environment entirely. 

Scientists and global leaders are investigating the potential of technological innovations such as carbon capture, utilisation, and storage (CCUS). 

Experts at MIT believe CCUS technologies (which trap CO2 and store it so that it does not affect the environment) will soon be essential for reducing emissions in heavy industries like steel and cement production. 

  • Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs)

NDCs, as outlined in the Paris Agreement, are the long-term efforts each country should make in order to reach the Net Zero 2050 target. While some NDCs are written into law, other countries set NDC targets to meet within a specific timeline. 

For example, the UK aims to decarbonise its electricity system by 2035, with the US setting their clean energy goal for the same year. 

  • Harnessing renewable energy

Renewable energy is a cornerstone of the net zero strategy, with many governments investing heavily in renewable energy sources like wind, solar, and hydropower.

In March 2024, the UK government announced a £1 billion funding boost for its latest energy auction (an event where energy providers/sellers bid for contracts). 

The recent spring budget of 2024 also showed the government investing £1 billion into the offshore wind sector. While recent reports have deemed the government’s climate efforts ‘not fit for purpose’, these investments may signal a positive change. 

Join the Solar Takeover! 

Right now, it would be impossible to estimate the total cost of going 100% net zero. 

However, experts believe that it could cost the UK government £16 billion across all economic sectors (provided we were to reach the goal by 2050). 

While the net zero 2050 plan may not be cheap for the government, making changes on an individual level can be affordable. If you want to make a difference, contact us today about commercial and domestic solar panel installations.