The race to zero emissions, and why the world depends on it (2022)

Climate and Environment

A host of countries have recently announced major commitments to significantly cut their carbon emissions, promising to reach "net zero" in the coming years. The term is becoming a global rallying cry, frequently cited as a necessary step to successfully beat back climate change, and the devastation it is causing.

What is net zero and why is it important?

Put simply, net zero means we are not adding new emissions to the atmosphere. Emissions will continue, but will be balanced by absorbing an equivalent amount from the atmosphere.

Practically every country has joined the Paris Agreement on climate change, which calls for keeping the global temperature to 1.5°C above pre-industrial era levels. If we continue to pump out the emissions that cause climate change, however, temperatures will continue to rise well beyond 1.5, to levels that threaten the lives and livelihoods of people everywhere.

This is why a growing number of countries are making commitments to achieve carbon neutrality, or "net zero" emissions within the next few decades. It’s a big task, requiring ambitious actions starting right now.

Net zero by 2050 is the goal. But countries also need to demonstrate how they will get there. Efforts to reach net-zero must be complemented with adaptation and resilience measures, and the mobilization of climate financing for developing countries.

The race to zero emissions, and why the world depends on it (1)

Unsplash/Appolinary Kalashnikova

Clean energy, like wind power, is a key element in reaching net zero emissions. is wind farm in Montenegro.

So how can the world move toward net zero?

The good news is that the technology exists to reach net zero – and it is affordable.

A key element is powering economies with clean energy, replacing polluting coal - and gas and oil-fired power stations - with renewable energy sources, such as wind or solar farms. This would dramatically reduce carbon emissions. Plus, renewable energy is now not only cleaner, but often cheaper than fossil fuels.

A wholesale switch to electric transport, powered by renewable energy, would also play a huge role in lowering emissions, with the added bonus of slashing air pollution in the world’s major cities. Electric vehicles are rapidly becoming cheaper and more efficient, and many countries, including those committed to net zero, have proposed plans to phase out the sale of fossil-fuel powered cars.

Other harmful emissions come from agriculture (livestock produce significant levels of methane, a greenhouse gas). These could be reduced drastically if we eat less meat and more plant-based foods. Here again, the signs are promising, such as the rising popularity of "plant-based meats" now being sold in major international fast-food chains.

The race to zero emissions, and why the world depends on it (2)

Unsplash/Marc Heckner

An electric hybrid vehicle at a charging station in Germany.

What will happen to remaining emissions?

Reducing emissions is extremely important. To get to net zero, we also need to find ways to remove carbon from the atmosphere. Here again, solutions are at hand. The most important have existed in nature for thousands of years.

(Video) The Race to Zero Emissions, & Why the World Depends On It | Planet A

These "nature-based solutions" include forests, peatbogs, mangroves, soil and even underground seaweed forests, which are all highly efficient at absorbing carbon. This is why huge efforts are being made around the world to save forests, plant trees, and rehabilitate peat and mangrove areas, as well as to improve farming techniques.

Who is responsible for getting to net zero?

We are all responsible as individuals, in terms of changing our habits and living in a way which is more sustainable, and which does less harm to the planet, making the kind of lifestyle changes which are highlighted in the UN’s Act Now campaign.

The private sector also needs to get in on the act and it is doing so through the UN Global Compact, which helps businesses to align with the UN’s environmental and societal goals.

It’s clear, however, that the main driving force for change will be made at a national government level, such as through legislation and regulations to reduce emissions.

Many governments are now moving in the right direction. By early 2021, countries representing more than 65 per cent of global carbon dioxide emissions and more than 70 per cent of the world economy, will have made ambitious commitments to carbon neutrality. 

The European Union, Japan and the Republic of Korea, together with more than 110 other countries, have pledged carbon neutrality by 2050; China says it will do so before 2060.

Some climate facts:

  • The earth is now 1.1°C warmer than it was at the start of the industrial revolution. We are not on track to meet agreed targets in the 2015 Paris Agreement on climate change, which stipulated keeping global temperature increase well below 2 °C or at 1.5 °C above pre-industrial levels.

  • 2010-2019 is the warmest decade on record. On the current path of carbon dioxide emissions, the global temperature is expected to increase by 3 to 5 degrees Celsius by the end of century.

    To avoid the worst of warming (maximum 1.5°C rise), the world will need to decrease fossil fuel production by roughly 6 per cent per year between 2020 and 2030. Countries are instead planning and projecting an average annual increase of 2 per cent.

  • Climate action is not a budget buster or economy-wrecker: In fact, shifting to a green economy will add jobs. It could yield a direct economic gain of US$26 trillion through to 2030 compared with business-as-usual. And this is likely to be a conservative estimate.

(Video) What is net zero?

The race to zero emissions, and why the world depends on it (3)

UNDP

Restoring natural habitats as pictured here in Cuba will help to slow down climate change

Are these commitments any more than just political statements?

These commitments are important signals of good intentions to reach the goal, but must be backed by rapid and ambitious action. One important step is to provide detailed plans for action in nationally determined contributions or NDCs. These define targets and actions to reduce emissions within the next 5 to 10 years. They are critical to guide the right investments and attract enough finance.

So far, 186 parties to the Paris Agreement have developed NDCs. This year, they are expected to submit new or updated plans demonstrating higher ambition and action. Click here to see the NDC registry.

Is net zero realistic?

Yes! Especially if every country, city, financial institution and company adopts realistic plans for transitioning to net zero emissions by 2050.

The COVID-19 pandemic recovery could be an important and positive turning point. When economic stimulus packages kick in, there will be a genuine opportunity to promote renewable energy investments, smart buildings, green and public transport, and a whole range of other interventions that will help to slow climate change.

But not all countries are in the same position to affect change, are they?

That’s absolutely true. Major emitters, such as the G20 countries, which generate 80 per cent of carbon emissions, in particular, need to significantly increase their present levels of ambition and action.

Also, keep in mind that far greater efforts are needed to build resilience in vulnerable countries and for the most vulnerable people; they do the least to cause

climate change but bear the worst impacts. Resilience and adaptation action do not get the funding they need, however.

Even as they pursue net zero, developed countries must deliver on their commitment to provide $100 billion dollars a year for mitigation, adaptation and resilience in developing countries.

The race to zero emissions, and why the world depends on it (4)

Unsplash/Daniel Moqvist

National governments are the main drivers of change to reduce harmful emissions.

(Video) The Race to Net Zero | FT Rethink Sustainability

What is the UN doingpromote climate action?

  • It supports a broader process of global consensus on climate goals through the Paris Agreement and the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.

  • It is a leading source of scientific findings and research on climate change.

  • Within developing countries, it assists governments with the practicalities of establishing and monitoring NDCs, and taking measures to adapt to climate change, such as by reducing disaster risks and establishing climate-smart agriculture.

(Video) Race to zero emissions: How countries can improve their climate pledges and close the gap to 1.5°C

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FAQs

What is race to zero and why it is important? ›

Race To Zero is a global campaign to rally leadership and support from businesses, cities, regions, investors for a healthy, resilient, zero carbon recovery that prevents future threats, creates decent jobs, and unlocks inclusive, sustainable growth.

Why is net zero emissions important? ›

Net zero is important as it's the best way we can tackle climate change by reducing global warming. What we do in the next decade to limit emissions will be critical to the future, which is why every country, sector, industry and each one of us must work together to find ways to cut the carbon we produce.

Why do we need to achieve zero emissions before 2050? ›

Why is net zero important? The science shows clearly that in order to avert the worst impacts of climate change and preserve a livable planet, global temperature increase needs to be limited to 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels.

Why do global emissions need to reach net zero around mid century? ›

Climate science is clear that, to a close approximation, the eventual extent of global warming is proportional to the total amount of carbon dioxide that human activities add to the atmosphere. So, in order to stabilise climate change, CO2 emissions need to fall to zero.

What does it mean to be in race to zero? ›

Race to Zero is a UN-backed global campaign to rally leadership and support from businesses, cities, regions, and investors for a healthy, resilient, zero carbon recovery that prevents future threats, creates decent jobs, and unlocks inclusive, sustainable growth.

What does race to zero mean? ›

The Race to Zero is a United Nations-led campaign that is working to fill that gap — by working with businesses, cities, regions, investors, and financial and educational institutions to commit to achieve net zero carbon emissions by 2050 at the latest.

How does zero emission help the environment? ›

Achieving net-zero emissions means that some greenhouse gases are still released, but these are offset by removing an equivalent amount of greenhouse gases from the atmosphere and storing it permanently in soil, plants, or materials.

What happens if we don't reach net zero? ›

Wildfires, droughts, floods, crop failure, famine, mass migration and the destruction of ecosystems, communities and wildlife – these are just some of the predicted outcomes should the world reach a tipping point where we cannot reverse unmitigated global warming.

How can we achieve zero emissions? ›

By definition, net-zero emissions can be achieved when any remaining greenhouse gas emissions (GHG) released by human activities are neutralised by removing all GHG emissions from the atmosphere. For example, the carbon removal process can help achieve net zero emissions.

What would happen to future climate if we stopped emissions today? ›

Global temperatures could continue to rise for a few years, or a few decades, after all emissions stop, and then they may fall back down again as the climate system stabilizes. That means past a certain point, the world may not be able to avoid temporarily overshooting the Paris Agreement's temperature targets.

What happens if we don't reduce carbon emissions? ›

The wildlife we love and their habitat will be destroyed, leading to mass species extinction. Superstorms, drought, and heat waves would become increasingly common and more extreme, leading to major health crises and illness. Agricultural production would plummet, likely leading to global food shortages and famine.

What are the top three key challenges for a country to achieve net zero emissions? ›

Small and medium-sized businesses need urgent support to meet the demands of the climate crisis, or risk being left behind in the carbon economy.
...
  • Cost. ...
  • Supply chain emissions. ...
  • Measuring impact.
23 Nov 2021

How can a country achieve net zero emissions? ›

To reach net zero, emissions from homes, transport, agriculture and industry will need to be cut. In other words, these sectors will have to reduce the amount of carbon they put into the atmosphere. But in some areas, like aviation, it will be too complex or expensive to cut emissions altogether.

How can a country reach net zero? ›

To reach net zero we need to stop all gas and coal expansion.

What happens to the Earth with zero CO2 emissions? ›

If emissions go to zero, these “carbon sinks” continue to take up some of the extra CO2 that was emitted in the past – quickly at first and then more slowly over time as they move toward a new equilibrium. This reduces the levels of CO2 in the atmosphere and, thus, the warming it causes.

Who started race to zero? ›

Race to Zero (RtZ) is a global campaign initiated by the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) to rally leadership and support from non-state actors for a healthy, resilient, zero-carbon recovery that prevents future threats, creates decent jobs, and unlocks inclusive, sustainable growth.

Who started Zero Emissions Day? ›

On September 21, 2008, the environmental challenge known as Zero Emissions Day, or “ZeDay”, began and has evolved into a worldwide movement that aims to reduce the use of fossil fuels for that day. It all started when founder Ken Wallace launched a website in Nova Scotia, Canada.

How do you achieve net zero as an individual? ›

Reduce Your Footprint
  1. Drive Efficiently. First, prioritize regular vehicle maintenance and drive efficiently by making sure you follow speed limits, accelerate and decelerate gradually, and avoid idling unnecessarily. ...
  2. Drive Less When Possible. ...
  3. Learn about Green Vehicles. ...
  4. Flights. ...
  5. Cooling/Heating. ...
  6. Laundry. ...
  7. Electronics. ...
  8. Reuse.

What does race to goal mean? ›

What is meant by the term "Race To (Goals)"? The "race to (goals)" line is commonly used in sports that feature "goals", such as soccer or hockey. With this line, you are betting on which team will score a certain number of goals first. Or, you can also bet on both teams not reaching a certain number of goals.

How many countries have made net zero commitments? ›

Legally binding targets

Of the top ten GHG emitters, only Japan, Canada and the EU have legally binding net zero commitments. In December 2000, the EU's member states jointly committed to a binding target of a net domestic reduction of at least 55% in GHG emissions by 2030, compared to 1990 levels.

What does race to 10 points mean? ›

A race to 10 bets is placing a bet on the first team to hit 10 points in a game before the other. If none of the teams gets the given points by the end of the game, your bet will be considered void. Football is the most common game where people get to bet on Race to 10 bets.

How do emissions impact the Earth? ›

Abstract: Air pollutants are responsible for a number of adverse environmental effects, such as photochemical smog, acid rain, death of forests, or reduced atmospheric visibility. Emissions of greenhouse gases from combustion of fossil fuels are associated with the global warming of Earth's climate.

Why is it important for everyone to reduce carbon emissions? ›

Reducing your carbon footprint is important because it mitigates the effects of global climate change, improves public health, boosts the global economy, and maintains biodiversity. When we cut carbon emissions we help ensure cleaner air, water, and food for our generation and for generations yet to come.

How do emissions affect the environment? ›

The amount of carbon emissions trapped in our atmosphere causes global warming, which causes climate change, symptoms of which include melting of the polar ice caps, the rising of sea levels, the disturbance of animals' natural habitats, extreme weather events, and so many more negative side effects that are dangerous ...

Will humans become extinct from climate change? ›

The risk that global warming could lead to human extinction is “dangerously under explored”, climate scientists have warned. As the globe heats up and emissions continue to rise, a team of international researchers has urged governments to start paying attention to “worst case scenario” outcomes.

Does net zero save the world? ›

The bottom line is that Net Zero alone is not enough to save our planet. To do that we need Net Zero Plus. And the plus is adaptation: making ourselves resilient and ready to live safely and well in a climate changed world.

How long will it take to reverse global warming? ›

It could take as long as 1,000 years after a complete halt of greenhouse gas emissions for environmental measures like sea level and ocean surface temperature to return to pre-industrial levels [source: NOAA]. In addition, other factors besides greenhouse gas emissions can contribute to global warming.

What are 3 ways to reduce emission? ›

6 Ways to Reduce Carbon Emissions
  • Reduce air travel. As of 2017, the amount of transportation-related carbon dioxide emissions eclipsed the amount of electricity generation emissions. ...
  • Make your driving more efficient. ...
  • Plant trees. ...
  • Switch to clean energy. ...
  • Eat less red meat. ...
  • Make your home more energy-efficient.
7 Jun 2021

What can humans do to reduce emissions? ›

How You Can Help Reduce Greenhouse Gas Emissions at Home
  • Get a home energy audit.
  • Use Renewable energy.
  • Purchase Solar Panels.
  • Buy Green Tags.
  • Purchase Carbon offsets.
  • Adjust your thermostat.
  • Install solar lights.
  • Use energy-saving light bulbs.
16 Sept 2021

Which country will build zero carbon emissions? ›

NEOM is a flagship $500 billion project in northwestern Saudi Arabia, which is slated to be built from scratch on a 26,500-square-kilometer (10,230-square-mile) area and link Jordan and Egypt via Saudi territory.

How long do humans have left? ›

Humanity has a 95% probability of being extinct in 7,800,000 years, according to J. Richard Gott's formulation of the controversial Doomsday argument, which argues that we have probably already lived through half the duration of human history.

How long will the Earth last with pollution? ›

The current rate of greenhouse gas pollution is so high that Earth has about 11 years to rein in emissions if countries want to avoid the worst damage from climate change in the future, a new study concludes.

What if all pollution stopped? ›

So even if carbon emissions stopped completely right now, as the oceans catch up with the atmosphere, the Earth's temperature would rise about another 1.1F (0.6C). Scientists refer to this as committed warming. Ice, also responding to increasing heat in the ocean, will continue to melt.

Can the world run out of carbon and why? ›

So answering your question, the Earth would not run out of CO2 in the next million years with no human intervention. Some CO2 stored in the Atlantic Ocean is going to be released to the atmosphere.

Will the Earth be habitable in 100 years? ›

The question of habitability

Again, the short answer is, “Of course not.” If Earth is uninhabitable in 2100, it will not be because our climate cannot support human life.

Why do we need to cut emissions? ›

Because air pollution and greenhouse gases are often released from the same sources, cutting greenhouse gas emissions in an effort to slow climate change also reduces air pollutants, such as fine particulate matter (PM2.5). Reducing these co-emitted air pollutants improves air quality and benefits human health.

Why is it difficult for countries to reduce carbon emissions? ›

For road transport it is already more difficult. Electric vehicles will take off but for mass-scale usage we may well run into restrictions on the availability of certain commodities. Flying and a substantial part of industry usage offers even less scope for CO2 emission reductions.

What four steps must our world take to reach zero emissions by 2050? ›

It is time to put a price on carbon; end fossil fuel subsidies and finance; stop building new coal power plants; shift the tax burden from income to carbon, from taxpayers to polluters; make climate-related financial risk disclosures mandatory; and integrate the goal of carbon neutrality into all economic and fiscal ...

What are the 3 mechanisms a country can use to meet their target emissions? ›

As an additional means of meeting these targets, the Kyoto Protocol introduced three market-based mechanisms, thereby creating what is now known as the carbon market.
...
The Kyoto mechanisms are:
  • Clean development mechanism (CDM)
  • Joint implementation (JI)
  • Emissions trading (ET)

Will Net Zero Emissions stop global warming? ›

The global temperature will stabilise when carbon dioxide emissions reach net zero. For 1.5°C (2.7°F), this means achieving net zero carbon dioxide emissions globally in the early 2050s; for 2°C (3.6°F), it is in the early 2070s.

How much would zero emissions cost? ›

Getting to net zero by 2050 will cost an extra $3.5 trillion a year, according to a new study by McKinsey. We'll need a fundamental transformation of the global economy to go truly green. This will lead to job losses, but there will be a higher number of new roles created in a low-carbon world.

How can we reduce carbon emissions globally? ›

There are many ways to increase the energy efficiency of buildings, including installing more efficient lighting, EnergyStar-certified appliances like hot water heaters, and better insulation. Greenhouse gas emissions can be reduced by making power on-site with renewables and other climate-friendly energy resources.

Can we reach zero emissions? ›

Because it would be prohibitively expensive or disruptive to eliminate some sources of emissions entirely, achieving net-zero emissions is considered more feasible than achieving zero emissions at a nationwide scale. Many governments and businesses have set a goal of achieving net-zero emissions by 2050.

Can we live on Earth without greenhouse gases? ›

Without any greenhouse gases, Earth would be an icy wasteland. Greenhouse gases keep our planet livable by holding onto some of Earth's heat energy so that it doesn't all escape into space. This heat trapping is known as the greenhouse effect.

What would Earth be like with no co2? ›

Carbon dioxide atmosphere absorbs and stores the energy near the earth's surface when incoming solar radiation is reflected back to the space. If there was no carbon dioxide then there would no absorption of solar energy and hence the temperature of earth's surface would be less than the present level.

How do you play race to zero? ›

The players take turns, rolling the die to make their special number and subtracting that number from their total. The winner is the first player to reach 0, but they must get to 0 exactly. At any time, a player may choose to roll only one or two dice, instead of three dice.

What is the significance of the race? ›

Although race has no genetic or scientific basis, the concept of race is important and consequential. Societies use race to establish and justify systems of power, privilege, disenfranchisement, and oppression.

What is the race concept? ›

Race is a human-invented, shorthand term used to describe and categorize people into various social groups based on characteristics like skin color, physical features, and genetic heredity. Race, while not a valid biological concept, is a real social construction that gives or denies benefits and privileges.

How do you clear the concept of zero? ›

Hence, we can conclude that the concept of 'zero' can be introduced best through the Subtraction operation by subtracting the same number from the same number. For Example Subtracting 8 from 8 gives Zero. (8-8=0). A teacher can use this activity with balls, a pencil, a pen, or other dummy objects.

How many players can you have on Generation Zero? ›

Generation Zero is designed to be played in any combination of one to four players. You can join up with friends, jump in to public games that others have setup, or play solo. It's up to you!

What is the zero of game? ›

A zero-sum game is a situation where, if one party loses, the other party wins, and the net change in wealth is zero.

How do you get net-zero emissions? ›

By definition, net-zero emissions can be achieved when any remaining greenhouse gas emissions (GHG) released by human activities are neutralised by removing all GHG emissions from the atmosphere. For example, the carbon removal process can help achieve net zero emissions.

What is the moral of the story the race? ›

This story of Tarun gives us valuable lessons as it shows us that perseverance, dedication, self- confidence and the passion to do things no matter what others may say or think will always lead to success one way or the other.

How does race and ethnicity affect society? ›

The politics of race

Nevertheless, the legacies of racial and ethnic constructs can be spotted in everything from housing to health. Racial and ethnic prejudices affect the distribution of wealth, power, and opportunity, and create enduring social stratifications.

What is the purpose of Race to the Top? ›

Race to the Top has helped drive states nationwide to pursue higher standards, improve teacher effectiveness, use data effectively in the classroom, and adopt new strategies to help struggling schools.

What are the 7 races of the world? ›

Categorizing Race and Ethnicity
  • White.
  • Black or African American.
  • American Indian or Alaska Native.
  • Asian.
  • Native Hawaiian or Other Pacific Islander.
4 Aug 2021

How many races are there on Earth? ›

Most anthropologists recognize 3 or 4 basic races of man in existence today. These races can be further subdivided into as many as 30 subgroups.

What are the 5 races? ›

OMB requires that race data be collectd for a minimum of five groups: White, Black or African American, American Indian or Alaska Native, Asian, and Native Hawaiian or Other Pacific Islander.

Videos

1. Race to Zero and Race to Resilience - Delivering on the Promise Of Paris: Every fraction counts
(The Climate Group)
2. Decarbonization: The Race to Zero Emissions | Sustainable Routes
(Sustainable Routes)
3. Why "Net Zero" Is A Scam
(Our Changing Climate)
4. The Sustainability Grand Tour: Fast Tracking the Race to Zero Emissions in the Maritime Sector
(EngineersIreland)
5. Race To Zero Dialogues: Opening Session
(High-Level Climate Champions)
6. Accelerating the Race to Zero-Emission Shipping | Race to Zero Dialogues
(World Economic Forum)

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