Action begins by acknowledging the climate crisis and committing as a company to align with the Paris Agreement.
According to the IPCC special report on the impacts of global warming, to achieve the 1.5°C ambition at the global level, greenhouse gas emissions should halve by 2030 to reach net zero* by 2050, while at the same time removing some of the carbon already emitted into the atmosphere.
To send a strong signal to policymakers and help mobilise others, many non-state actors such as businesses decide to publicly pledge to the 1.5°C ambition of halving emissions across their own business and value chain by 2030 (or earlier) and reaching net zero state** as an individual actor by no later than 2050 (preferably much sooner). Although often used interchangeably, net zero and carbon neutrality*** are not the same.
Net zero is the dominant lens through which companies approach climate action with 91% of the global economy being covered by such pledges.
A number of organisations, however, point to the shortcomings of emissions reduction pledges, such as misuse of the net zero term, the lack of near-term accountability, or inattention to biodiversity or climate justice considerations, among others. In response, several frameworks have been proposed to extend and complement net zero. Project Drawdown’s business framework, Paul Polman’s Net Positive movement, and WWF’s Beyond Net-Zero – are some examples.
* Net zero (global): referring to the world as a whole, a stage in which emissions of greenhouse gases are balanced by removals over a specified period.
** Net zero (as an individual actor): when a company is reducing emissions following science-based pathways, with any remaining emissions being fully neutralised by removals, either within the value chain or through the purchase of valid offset credits.
*** Carbon neutrality (as an individual actor): when a company counterbalances emissions with carbon offsets without necessarily having reduced emissions by an amount consistent with a science-based pathway.
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