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Why "Net Zero" is not enough

"Net zero" is everywhere in the media with companies pledging to reach net zero within a certain timeframe and governments passing laws and regulations to support these goals.

For example, 192 parties have signed the Kyoto Protocol, adopted in 1997, which operationalizes the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change, which, in turn, aims to prevent "dangerous human interference in our climate. More than 190 countries have adopted the Paris Agreement, a binding treaty on climate change with the goal of keeping the global temperature average from rising more than 2 °C compared to pre-industrial levels.

"Net zero means achieving a balance between the carbon emitted into the atmosphere,
and the carbon removed from it."

The more ambitious (non-binding) goal of halting the temperature increase to 1.5 °C seems all but lost with the probability decreasing rapidly year by year. So, what's the problem? Why are we not any closer to limiting the temperature increase with all the pledges and concrete actions governments and companies are taking?

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The problem with net zero

The general consensus is, perhaps optimistically, that humanity can reach net zero around 2050, meaning that the carbon dioxide removal technologies, reduction in fossil fuel power generation, increased electrification, etc., will allow us to balance emissions and their removal, resulting in no excess greenhouse gases being released in the atmosphere.

The downside of the concept of net zero is that it removes the immediacy of the issue. 2050 still seems so far away and allows for what are likely unrealistic expectations of efficiency increase for existing carbon removal technologies, or the birth of new, more efficient technologies that would simply remove the need for strict controls over carbon emissions.

Svante Arrhenius

28 years or so seems like quite a long time, until you realize that incredibly, already in 1896 a Swedish scientist by the name of Svante Arrhenius predicted that increasing carbon dioxide llevels in the atmoshere can lead to the greenhouse effect, impacting surface temperature levels significantly globally. This was almost 130 years ago and despite overwhelming evidence from the scientific community, climate change skepticism is alive and well.