Committing to Net Zero Means…Committing to What, Exactly?

by Chris Armstrong on January 17, 2023

The goal of Net Zero emissions by 2050 has had a remarkable rise to the forefront of climate politics. Governments and corporations are falling over one another to commit to it. That in itself might sow some suspicion about how firm or flexible a target Net Zero is. In a recent piece with Duncan McLaren, we try to show that the flexibility of the goal is a real danger. We might be tempted to think that, once we all agree on Net Zero by 2050, we can breathe a collective sigh of relief (so long as we…ah…actually implement our various commitments).

But things are not so simple. Net Zero is an important part of the solution. It would involve any carbon emissions being balanced by carbon removals, and that should allow the climate to stabilise (i.e to stop warming further). But the precise temperature it stabilises at will depend on how much carbon we emit before 2050, and that is a question about which the Net Zero goal is, of course, silent.
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