16 November 2020
NewClimate Institute Report Analyzes Nuances of Net-zero Targets
Photo Credit: Lynn Wagner
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The report analyzes the nuances of net-zero targets to better enable the identification of legitimate ambition, and offers recommendations to net-zero actors for increasing transparency in pursuit of their emissions targets.

While the number of net-zero pledges from cities, regions, and companies has doubled since late 2019, nuances regarding whether and how net-zero pledges target the direct reduction of emissions, offsetting, and carbon dioxide removal can determine the extent to which the pledges contribute to authentic deep decarbonization.

According to the report, non-transparent net-zero targets can mislead stakeholders about their environmental impact.

The NewClimate Institute has published a report that analyzes the nuances of net-zero targets in order to better enable the identification of truly ambitious actors and offers recommendations for increasing target transparency.

The report titled, ‘Navigating the Nuances of Net-zero Targets,’ lauds the accelerating momentum for net-zero targets, noting that the number of net-zero pledges from cities, regions, and companies has about doubled since late 2019. In total, regions, cities, and companies with net-zero targets now represent over 880 million residents, 24.9 million employees, and 10 gigatons of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. 

However, the report warns, nuances in target implementation approaches can determine the extent to which an actor’s target contributes to deep decarbonization. These nuances have implications for the additionality of the impact, the integrity of the actor’s claimed outcome, and the extent to which the approaches support or hinder efforts to solve decarbonization challenges.

The report categorizes the nuances according to whether they target the direct reduction of emissions, claim to neutralize emissions through offsetting, or support carbon dioxide (CO2) removal. For example, under the direct reduction of emissions category, the report highlights a broad range of approaches for claiming the neutralization of electricity-related emissions and for supporting the reduction of supply chain and out-of-boundary emissions.

The report analyzes the impacts of different types of renewable energy delivery approaches and the risks and opportunities associated with the claiming of offsets in the post-2020 global governance framework under the Paris Agreement on climate change.

As uncertainties persist related to methodologies for calculating the climate impact of CO2 removal, the report recommends that these methodologies not be considered as equivalent to direct GHG reductions in claiming neutralization and that actors specify targets for emission reductions and emission removals separately. 

The report finds that transparency enables accountability, unraveling ambiguity to assist the public in understanding and encourage an actor’s ambition. As transparency enables constructive dialogue about challenges faced, it results in greater solution-oriented ambition than making net-zero claims based in opaque accounting practices, it notes. Conversely, non-transparent net-zero targets can mislead stakeholders about environmental impact, resulting in decisions and behavior that can cause an increase in GHG emissions.

The report concludes by listing ten criteria for net-zero target transparency, including recommendations to chart a decarbonization pathway with interim targets and to commit to a timeline to revise and ratchet ambition.

The NewClimate Institute supports research and implementation of international action against climate change by generating and sharing knowledge on international climate negotiations, tracking climate action, climate and development, climate finance, and carbon market mechanisms.

In the last year, countries including ChinaJapan, the EU, and the Republic of Korea, as well as close to 200 companies and the Net-Zero Asset Owner Alliance were among the actors to pledge or announce significant strides towards net-zero targets. [Publication: Navigating the Nuances of Net-zero Targets] [NewClimate Institute Press Release]

By Gabriel Gordon-Harper, Thematic Expert on Climate Change and Sustainable Energy

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