Complete Guide to Achieving Net-Zero Targets

11/14/2023

COMPLETE GUIDE TO ACHIEVING NET-ZERO TARGETS: STRATEGIES FOR A SUSTAINABLE FUTURE

In the face of mounting concerns over global warming and climate change, many organizations are recognizing the urgent need to take action. One approach gaining traction is the adoption of net-zero targets. But what exactly are net-zero targets and why are they so important?

In this article, we will delve into the science and practicality of setting achievable net-zero targets.

Artistic representation of a sustainable future with renewable energy sources.

Understanding Net-Zero Targets: A Science-Based Approach to Global Emissions

Eco-friendly net zero sign on a wooden block, greenery behind.

The concept of ‘net zero’ has become a linchpin in the global effort to manage and reduce global emissions, representing a balance between the amount of greenhouse gases produced and the amount removed from the atmosphere. Achieving a net-zero emissions economy goes beyond an environmental aspiration, towards a critical target for businesses and governments worldwide.

Definition of net-zero

According to the Science Based Targets initiative (SBTi), a net-zero target is achieved when a company or country reaches a state of balance between anthropogenic emissions of greenhouse gases and anthropogenic removals. This balance is not merely about offsetting emissions but requires substantial and rapid emission reductions. By 2030, emissions should be halved, and by 2050, at least 90% reductions are necessary to align with the global goal of stabilizing temperature increase and keeping global warming to 1.5°C.

SBTi provides a robust and climate science-based framework for companies to set and achieve net-zero targets, ensuring that their emissions reductions align with the latest climate science and contribute meaningfully to limiting global warming.

SBTi’s Corporate Net-Zero Standard

To have an SBTi-approved net-zero target, companies must adhere to stringent requirements that dictate the depth and speed of emissions reductions.

To align with the SBTi’s Corporate Net-Zero Standard, companies must set science-based targets encompassing all significant emission sources across their value chains, including direct emissions (Scope 1 and 2) and a significant portion of indirect emissions (Scope 3). These could include upstream activities like raw material extraction and downstream activities such as the use of sold products.

Near-term targets should reflect immediate action, achieving a 50% reduction by 2030, while long-term goals require a reduction of over 90% before 2050. After deep reductions, any residual emissions must be neutralized with permanent carbon removal to truly attain a net-zero state per the latest climate science.

Importance of Setting Net-Zero Targets

Morning light on a green path towards net-zero 2050, climate action concept.

The urgency of setting net-zero targets is underscored by the LSE’s Grantham Institute, which highlights the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) assertion that reaching net-zero by 2050 is crucial to meet the goal set by the Paris Climate Agreement of limiting global warming to 1.5°C.

Achieving net-zero is a multifaceted challenge that requires abatement of emissions across all sectors, the development of negative emissions technologies. It is a complex but necessary endeavor to prevent the most dangerous and irreversible effects of climate change on the global net balance.

Global Movement Towards Net-Zero

The global movement towards a net-zero emissions economy is gaining momentum, underpinned by the United Nations’ net-zero Coalition

This initiative represents a robust coalition of non-state actors, including businesses, cities, financial institutions, and educational institutions, all pledging to set net-zero targets. Their collective commitment is to limit global warming by ensuring a transition to a decarbonized economy and reaching net zero carbon emissions by 2050 at the latest. This aligns with efforts to contain the global temperature rise within 1.5°C, preventing future threats while ensuring sustainable growth. The Coalition underscores the importance of early action to mitigate remaining emissions, fostering a resilient and inclusive future for all.

The Science Behind net-zero Emissions: A Blueprint for a Sustainable Future

SBTi presents a meticulous framework in its Net-Zero Standard, a torchbearer for both developing countries, developed nations and the private sector to navigate the complexities of GHG emissions. This standard is not just a set of guidelines; it’s a global pact to keep the rise in global temperatures under the critical threshold of 1.5°C, as stipulated by the Paris Agreement.

teps for reaching net-zero standards, with emission targets and reduction strategies up to 2050 (Source: SBTi)

Global Emissions Budget Vs Climate Budget

The document by SBTi explains a Global emissions budget akin to Climate budget but with a currency of carbon.

Global emissions budget refers to the total amount of greenhouse gas emissions that can be released into the atmosphere over a specific period of time while still limiting temperature increase or global warming to a certain degree. For example, a global emissions budget might specify the total emissions that the world could release over a period of time that is consistent with a given rise in global temperature.

On the other hand Climate budget, also known as a Carbon budget, is a simplified way to measure the additional emissions that can enter the atmosphere to stay below a certain temperature limit. It’s based on the fact that the amount of warming that will occur can be approximated by total CO2 emissions. In simpler terms, it is a finite allowance that our planet can afford to spend if we are to avert the catastrophic overdraft of anthropogenic emissions.

Pivotal Role of Private Sector

The concept of a “Climate Budget” is a critical framework for global climate policy, functioning much like a fiscal budget for global economy but denominated in carbon emissions. This budget represents the threshold of greenhouse gases that Earth’s atmosphere can absorb without triggering severe climatic shifts. As global temperatures continue to rise, with temperature increase the urgency to adhere to this budget intensifies, compelling nations and businesses to strive for the goal to achieve net-zero by 2050.

As we inch closer to this budget’s depletion, the role of the private sector becomes ever more crucial. Corporations across the globe are now tasked with an imperative mission: to recalibrate their operations and ensure that their long-term strategies align with the global emission reduction trajectory.

Imperatives of Net-Zero Commitments in Corporate Governance

In the realm of corporate sustainability, the pursuit of a net-zero target is more than an environmental gesture—it’s a strategic imperative with tangible returns. The ROI for adopting net-zero strategies encapsulates a spectrum of economic, environmental, and social dividends. Enterprises that establish a clear net-zero date are positioning themselves as industry leaders in innovation and consumer trust.

Business professional planning for net-zero 2050 goals with digital interface

Net zero by 2050.

Being a leader in climate action offers many benefits. Looking ahead and moving towards a climate-neutral way of doing things is smart—it means your business can keep up over the long haul in a world where polluting less is becoming the norm. Aiming for a carbon-negative status is a big goal, but it shows that a company is really serious about cutting down on emissions more than what’s expected.

It’s important to put net-zero plans into action. This means changing how we do business so we can cut down on the leftover emissions that are hardest to get rid of. These changes aren’t easy, but they’re a chance to come up with new ideas and solutions in an area that’s still pretty new. And all this work helps with the bigger job of keeping our planet from getting too hot.

Deep decarbonization is key to sustainability and it’s also the cornerstone of a resilient business model. By actively managing and reducing residual emissions, businesses are not only contributing to a healthier planet but are also setting the stage for sustained economic growth. The journey to achieve net-zero is a path lined with opportunities for innovation, growth, and leadership in the new sustainable economy.

How to Set Achievable  Net-Zero Target

Understanding Your Carbon Footprint: The First Step to Decarbonization

To set and achieve net-zero targets effectively, companies must first conduct a comprehensive value chain GHG baseline and footprint assessment.

Here are some steps corporations can take to understand their carbon footprint:

  1. Identify GHG Emissions: Greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions are similar to ripples originating from a center point, expanding and covering an increasingly larger area.
  2. Use Carbon Footprint Calculation Tools: There are several tools available that can help calculate a corporation’s carbon footprint such as North Star Carbon Accounting Software.
  3. Prepare Your GHG Emissions Calculations: After using the calculation tools, prepare your greenhouse gas emissions calculations.
  4. Map Out Company’s Facilities, Machines, Equipment, Vehicles, and Activities: This includes collecting bills for each one, such as utility and vehicle gas bills.
  5. Determine the CO2 Equivalent: This is based on what are called “emissions factors”—factors that affect the CO2 equivalent calculation in your area.

Check our blog to understand this process in more detail – Conducting your first GHG Emissions Inventory

Developing a Decarbonization Roadmap

With a clear understanding of emissions, the next step is to establish ambitious yet achievable net-zero targets with interim milestones.

A case in point is the European Union’s Green Deal, which sets a roadmap for the member states to become climate-neutral by 2050. Companies can emulate this approach by setting staged goals, such as a 30% reduction in emissions by 2030, leading up to reaching net- zero by 2050.

Some of the practical ways to develop a decarbonization roadmap are as follows:

  1. Identify Current State and Future Goals: Understand where your organization currently stands in terms of carbon emissions and set clear, achievable targets for the future.
  2. Gap Analysis: Identify the gaps between your current state and your future goals. This will help you understand the changes that need to be made.
  3. Develop Strategies: Create strategies that allow for different scenarios. These strategies should be tailored to your organization’s specific goals and needs.
  4. Implement Decarbonization Measures: This could include improving insulation, maximizing the use of LED lighting, replacing oil and gas boilers with heat pumps, certifying buildings, and adopting technologies to reduce energy consumption.
  5. Leverage Incentives: Be aware of the incentives available for reducing carbon dioxide emissions. This can help set the pace and potential cost of achieving net-zero goals.
  6. Commit to Renewable Energy: More than 340 companies have signed onto the RE100 pledge to use 100 percent renewable energy.

Pitching Net-Zero to Leadership

Convincing company leadership to commit to net-zero pledges is crucial in the global effort to limit warming. A compelling business case can be drawn from the proactive stance of multinational corporations like Unilever and Google. Unilever has set a target to reach net-zero emissions from all its products by 2039, a move that not only addresses environmental concerns but also capitalizes on the growing consumer demand for sustainable products.

Google, on the other hand, has been carbon-neutral since 2007 and plans to reach net-zero emissions globally by 2030. Their commitment is not just about reducing their footprint but also influencing the entire supply chain to adopt sustainable practices. Google’s leadership understands that sustainability is a driver for innovation, leading to the development of more efficient data centers and cloud solutions that are both cost-effective and environmentally friendly.

These examples demonstrate that the journey to reach net-zero can open up new avenues for growth and profitability, aligning with the financial interests of shareholders and the ethical expectations of consumers. By presenting such case studies, one can illustrate to company leadership that the commitment to limit warming and reach net-zero is not only a moral imperative but also a strategic business decision.

In addition, driving emissions down and working towards a net-zero target can also help companies reduce their risk against future climate and environmental legislations, help recruit, retain and engage employees, attract new customers and build brand loyalty and help the organization be more efficient with reduced operating costs. 

Sector-Specific Strategies for Emission Reduction

Different sectors require customized strategies for reducing emissions. In the energy sector, a transition to renewable sources is paramount. The transport sector could look towards electric vehicle fleets, as seen with companies like Tesla leading the charge in automotive innovation. Manufacturing might focus on process optimization to reduce waste and improve energy efficiency.

Leveraging Technology for Net-Zero

Modern tools and technologies are indispensable in monitoring and achieving net-zero targets.

Some efforts worth mentioning in this section are:

  1. Google has been utilizing AI to optimize the energy efficiency of its data centers, resulting in a 40% reduction in cooling costs and a significant decrease in GHG emissions.  
  2. McKinsey forecasts a substantial rise in clean hydrogen production, incorporating carbon capture technologies, to reach 38 million metric tons annually by 2030. This increase is pivotal for progressing towards a net-zero future, with projected demand escalating to between 400 and 600 million metric tons by 2050.
  3. Tesla, through its advanced solar panels and energy storage systems, is facilitating the transition to renewable energy sources in residential and commercial sectors. Their Solar Roof technology, for instance, is designed to not only generate energy but also to integrate with the Powerwall battery to store excess energy, ensuring a consistent supply and reducing reliance on fossil fuels. The Tesla Powerwall has a usable storage capacity of 13.5 kW, a round-trip efficiency of 90%, and 100% depth of discharge.
  4. By using intelligent substations and grid applications, Siemens is enabling a more efficient and reliable energy supply system, which is critical for reducing greenhouse gas emissions in line with net-zero goals. The company has made good progress toward reaching net zero in its operations by 2030 and in cutting its operational CO2 emissions by 46 percent compared to the 2019 baseline.
  5. IBM’s Watson Decision Platform for Agriculture utilizes AI to analyze various data points such as weather conditions, soil data, and IoT-enabled equipment. This enables farmers to make informed decisions that increase crop yields while minimizing environmental impact, supporting more sustainable agricultural practices.

The Role of Government and Policy

 Government support in the form of policies and incentives can play a pivotal role in promoting emission reductions and steering the shift towards a low-carbon economy. 

  1. Policy Measures: Governments have policy tools at their disposal to curb emissions. These include implementing carbon pricing providing subsidies for technology adoption and setting performance standards. Carbon pricing offers a financial incentive to reduce emissions and can be implemented through taxes, fees or market-based cap and trade systems.
  2. Investment in Digital Grid: Another crucial aspect is investing in the digital grid infrastructure. According to a study conducted by Ernst & Young Global Limited (EY) 92% of utilities and power generation companies have made the decision to invest in the digital grid in 2017. EY predicts that annual investments in the grid will reach half a trillion dollars.
  3. Incentives, for Clean Energy: The federal government is funding energy infrastructure projects as well. For instance, the Energy Act of 2020 provides tax incentives and program funding to encourage investment. Additionally, the Inflation Reduction Act includes tax provisions that aim to save families money on their energy bills while expediting the adoption of energy technologies, clean vehicles, sustainable buildings and eco-friendly manufacturing practices.
  4. International Collaboration: More than 110 countries accounting for over 70 percent of the global GDP have made commitments to achieve net-zero emissions. It is imperative to have coordination in place to ensure that these commitments are fulfilled transparently.
  5. Increasing Public Awareness and Education: Governments can stress on the importance of reducing emissions and transitioning, towards a low carbon economy. This can be achieved through programs, public campaigns and implementing relevant legislation.

Need for Credible Actions to Back Commitments

Organizations must significantly strengthen their pursuing efforts to back commitments with credible actions. Developed countries, in particular, should take bold climate action to ensure that empty pledges do not undermine the credibility of net-zero targets and the broader sustainability movement.

These organizations must prioritize implementing concrete measures to reduce emissions, such as adopting sustainable energy sources, investing in energy-efficient technologies, and promoting sustainable practices throughout their operations. Transparency in reporting and regular communication of progress are crucial to maintaining trust and demonstrating a genuine commitment to achieving net-zero.

Monitoring and Reporting with North Star Carbon Management Tool

The North Star Carbon Management Tool is a powerful software solution that simplifies the monitoring and reporting of carbon capture and net-zero progress. It streamlines data collection, provides real-time analytics, and generates comprehensive reports, enabling organizations to effectively track their emissions and assess the effectiveness of their sustainability initiatives.

 North Star Carbon Management tool aligned with SBTi standards infographic

This user-friendly tool offers a range of features, including automating data Transfer and GHG calculations, goal setting, scenario analysis, AI-enabled decarbonization planning and data visualization. It enables organizations to monitor their carbon footprint at various levels, from overall corporate emissions to specific projects or facilities as well as audit reports with just one click. With our tool organizations can gain valuable insights and make data-driven decisions to accelerate progress towards reaching net-zero targets.

Conclusion

Effective implementation of net-zero emissions targets requires a thorough understanding of an organization’s emissions, the development of a comprehensive roadmap, and ongoing monitoring and reporting. The support of governments, the adoption of credible actions, and the use of tools like the NorthStar Carbon Management Software are instrumental in achieving national net zero targets.

Take the next step in your sustainability journey by exploring our tool. Set up a call with us and reach out to us to fathom the power of data-driven sustainability management. Visit our website and schedule a demo today.

 

Written By Josh Prigge

Josh is a renowned sustainability professional with extensive experience in leading sustainability programs and initiatives for large organizations. His expertise is not just limited to consulting; he is also a sought-after public speaker and a college professor. To learn more about him, read about him here – About North Star Carbon Management.