Why the term ‘net-zero’ is nothing to get excited about:

What does ‘net-zero’ mean?
Net-zero refers to eliminating all greenhouse gas emission production or funding activities that offset however many emissions are produced e.g. tree planting or carbon capture. Doing the above would greatly lower the overall consequences of global warming, helping maintain the fragile ecosystem and human health. Many experts today believe the globe must reach net-zero by 2050 to avoid any catastrophic threats from global warming. However, experts believe such an accomplishment would require a triple in yearly clean energy investments by 2030 to around $5.63 trillion AUD ($4 trillion USD).

What is offsetting?
Offsetting emissions is when countries or companies:
1. invest money towards projects outside of their organisation that compensate for their initial damage, or
2. invest in cleaner practices/structures within the company itself.
Examples include:
– planting trees;
– operating off renewable energy;
– establishing carbon capture;
– developing energy-efficient practices/structures.

While offsetting emissions may seem equally as green as emission reduction, it very rarely makes up for the exact amount of emissions produced and contains many loopholes. Offsetting allows large companies and countries to transfer their problems onto others or simply leave the problems until the very last minute. According to a paper written by a PhD candidate and professor, net-zero must be achieved through emission reduction with offsetting only allocated to certain practices where emissions cannot be eliminated. In other words, offsetting should act as a last resort. But why?

Why the net-zero agreement is a scam:
The greatest problem with net-zero plans is not offsetting but the fact that there is no rule that states what percentage of emissions should be affected with offsetting or emission reduction. So while all countries and companies should try and look towards emission reduction, it doesn’t mean all will follow.
Many companies and/or countries that simply don’t care about the climate crisis may choose to offset all their emissions instead of lower them, and cannot be punished for this because none of the rules suggests otherwise. This means a large oil company for example can claim to reach net-zero by 2040, not because they’re developing a greener business plan, but because they can offset all their emissions with a seemingly green alternative like planting trees.
Additionally, many large polluting companies can claim to reach net-zero emissions by certain dates believing carbon capture utilisation and storage (CCUS) in the future will make up for their current environmental destruction. Therefore, many companies can leave their environmental action to the very last hour of 2049.

The dirty industries’ dream:
Large polluting companies are now begrudgingly taking (minimal) action on climate change due to ongoing pressure from governments and the public. Yet many companies appear to be spending less time on redesigning their business plan and more time greenwashing the public. Many oil and gas giants are creating new initiatives to persuade the public, yet these initiatives seem to be strongly focused on clever word choices rather than true action. Looking behind the flashy marketing campaigns shows unsurprising flaws within their plans. Many of these initiatives:
– only mention offsetting operation emissions, not the consumer impacts;
– show zero change in company practices;
– don’t contain any emission reduction schemes; and
– are silent on any action to be taken within the next few years.

Companies that plan to reluctantly take climate action by offsetting, can hold off until the very last minute e.g. spending money for thousands of new trees at the final hour to make up for the last thirty years of destruction. The responsibility for planting trees or setting up carbon vacuums does not lie with the company. All the company has to do is simply pass its money onto others and watch a tree pop up in Uganda.
Existing environmental strategies globally allow massive companies to send a seemingly positive message to the world around their net-zero plans while secretly doing nothing whatsoever, taking action only as the deadline approaches by shifting money off to others in exchange for large tree plantations etc.

The offsetting complications:
Offsetting is full of problems that only make you question the legitimacy of net-zero even more. For starters, most trees can take up to 20 years to store the amount of carbon dioxide (CO2) that an offsetting program hopes to receive. In addition, many of the tree plantations developed around the world are often in locations prone to deforestation and weather events that would likely destroy them. When this occurs, all the carbon dioxide stored over the last 20 years or more is released and sent back into the atmosphere. With a warming planet and greater demand for wood, paper etc, these situations are more likely to occur. Additionally, the far greater power possessed by first-world nations can push offsetting programs onto smaller, vulnerable communities in developing nations. In Kenya, an indigenous group was fiercely forced off their sacred land to make way for a stale and cold tree plantation.

Besides tree development, carbon capture is also riddled with defects. To begin with, modern carbon capture utilisation and storage is new technology meaning it’s quite expensive and cannot collect all emissions. Furthermore, the system is still yet to be tested on a large scale meaning it lacks a market even if it was financially viable.
According to a paper written in 2015, over 75% of offsetting programs have failed to make up for the number of emissions initially produced. Lisa Song claimed, if those programs were replaced with emission reduction schemes, global greenhouse gas emissions would have been 600 million tonnes lower. In a nutshell, offsetting programs simply don’t work and are causing greater harm than good, allowing dirty companies and fossil fuel-rich countries to cause environmental destruction while generating huge profits off their ‘green’ profile.

The appropriate solution:
Net-zero must be achieved through emission elimination and not offsetting. Period. While this scheme may come at a cost to many industries, it will force the dirty companies and countries to change habits and practices from…
– oil to biofuel;
– industrial agriculture to aquaponics/permaculture;
– cotton to bamboo; and
– coal-fired plants to solar farms.

In order to reduce the impacts of global warming and ensure a stable ecosystem, greenhouse gas emissions cannot continue. The world must accept a simpler life and seek opportunities that would further reduce our damage.
As it stands, net-zero isn’t anything worth celebrating because it still provides the green light for dirty industries and the colossal emissions that tag along with them. Although, if approached correctly with stronger and more ambitious goals, net-zero can be something to truly celebrate.

Ever since the term ‘net-zero’ began, it was thought of as the solution to our bleak future. Yet, this is tragically far from true. As it stands, net-zero allows companies and countries the ability to showcase their green image while quietly taking zero action. If the rules are tightened, forcing dirty industries and countries to develop green business plans, then net-zero does provide hope. However, the current rules set around climate action are inadequate, allowing fossil fuel-rich empires the ability to generate billions for the foreseeable future.
That’s net-zero, a term that allows fossil-fuel giants to flourish alongside the most sustainable sectors on earth.

Released on the 21st of January 2022. -KJDJ
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