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‘Net zero’ carbon targets to tackle climate change

Published: 9th Aug, 2021


Oxfam in new report titled “Tightening the Net” stated that ‘net zero’ carbon targets may be a “dangerous distraction” from the priority of cutting carbon emissions.

What does Net-zero mean?

  • Also referred to as carbon-neutrality, net-zero does not mean that a country would bring down the emissions to zero.
  • The emission would be gross-zero, which means reaching a state where there will be no emissions at all.
  • Therefore, in a net-zero state, a country’s emissions are compensated by the absorption and removal of greenhouse gases from the atmosphere.
  • The carbon can be absorbed is by creating carbon sinks such as a forest.
  • A country can have even negative emissions if the absorption and removal exceed the actual emissions.
  • For example-Bhutan has negative emissions as it absorbs more than it emits.

Key findings of report

  • The ‘net zero’ schemes are a Land-hungry scheme as it would require land resources for achieving the net-zero targets.
  • For tackling the challenge by planting more treesthen about 1.6 billion hectares of new forests would be required to remove the world’s excess carbon emissions by the year 2050.
    • It could result in an 80 percent rise in global food prices and more hunger while allowing rich nations and corporates to continue “dirty business-as-usual”.
  • To limit global warming below 1.5°C and to the prevention of irreversible damage from climate change, the world needs to aim to cut emissions by 45 percent by 2030 from 2010 levels.
  • Currently, countries’ plans to cut emissions will result in a reduction of only one percent by the year 2030.
Countries with net-zero targets
  • New Zealand: The New Zealand government passed the Zero Carbon Act in 2019, which committed the country to zero carbon emissions by 2050 or earlier, as part of the country’s attempts to meet its Paris climate accord commitments.
  • United Kingdom: The UK’s parliament passed legislation to reduce the UK’s net emissions of greenhouse gases by 100 % relative to 1990 levels by the year 2050.
  • United States: US president Joe Biden said that the country will cut its greenhouse gas emissions by at least 50 percent below 2005 levels by 2030.
    • In the US, a bipartisan organization called World War Zero was also launched in 2019 to bring together unlikely allies on climate change and to reach net-zero carbon emissions in the country by 2050.
  • European Union: The European Union announced the plan “Fit for 55”, which is to cut emissions by 55 percent below 1990 levels by 2030.
  • China: China also announced that it would be a net-zero emitter by the year 2060 and would not allow emissions to peak beyond what they are in 2030.

India’s objections

  • India is the only country opposing this target because it is likely to be the most impacted by it.
  • Over the next two to three decades, India’s emission is likely to grow at the fastest pace in the world, as it moves for higher growth to pull hundreds of millions of people out of the poverty.
  • No amount of afforestation or reforestation will be able to compensate for the increased emissions.
  • Most of the carbon removal technologies available now are either unreliable or very expensive.
  • According to India, the net-zero goal does not figure in the 2015 Paris Agreement. India is arguing that instead of opening up a parallel discussion on net-zero targets outside the Paris Agreement framework, countries must focus on delivering on what they have already promised.
  • It is well on its way to achieving its three targets of the Paris Agreement.

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