Carbon Strategy

In June 2019, UK Parliament passed legislation requiring the government to reduce the UK’s net emissions of greenhouse gases by 100% relative to 1990 levels by 2050. Doing so would make the UK a ‘net zero’ emitter. The UK’s independent advisory body the Committee on Climate Change (CCC) considers that even if existing technologies decarbonise the energy, heating, transport, agriculture and waste sectors are maximises, there will be around 130 million tonnes of carbon dioxide –equivalent (MtCO2) a year of residual emissions that negative emission technologies will have to remove.

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What does ‘net-zero’ mean?

It is clear from the science that the amount of carbon dioxide (CO2) in the atmosphere as a result of human activity largely determines the extent of global warming. This means that to prevent catastrophic climate change, CO2 emissions need to be reduced to zero. The science led to governments worldwide agreeing to achieve a balance between emissions and removal of greenhouses gases, in the Paris Agreement. The Paris Agreement (2015) central aim is to strengthen the global response to the threat of climate change by keeping a global temperature rise this century well below 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels and to pursue efforts to limit the temperature increase even further to 1.5 degrees Celsius. In June 2019, UK Parliament passed legislation requiring the government to reduce the UK’s net emissions of greenhouse gases by 100% relative to 1990 levels by 2050. Doing so would make the UK a ‘net zero’ emitter. 

‘Net zero’ vs Gross zero 

‘Net zero’ refers to achieving an overall balance between emissions produced and emissions taken out of the atmosphere. Like a bath with the taps on, an approach to achieving this balance can either be to turn down the taps (the emissions) or to drain an equal amount down the plug (removals of emissions from the atmosphere, including storage for the emissions such as ‘carbon sinks’). 

In contrast to a gross-zero target, which would reduce emissions from all sources uniformly to zero, a net-zero emissions target is more realistic because it allows for some residual emissions. This takes into account that some emissions are produced by ‘hard-to-treat’ sectors where reducing emissions is either too expensive, technologically too complex or not possible. In a net-zero scenario the residual emissions from these sectors are allowed as long as they are offset by removing emissions using natural or engineered sinks – gross negative emissions. 

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Residual emissions 

The scale of UK residual emission is currently substantial and even if existing technologies to decarbonise the energy, heating, transport, industry, agriculture and waste sectors are maximised, there will be around 130 million tonnes of carbon dioxide-equivalent (MtCO2e) a year of residual emissions that negative emission technologies will have to remove (24% Industry, 31% aviation and shipping 36% agriculture1. It is therefore important to reduce these residual emissions to reduce the amount of emissions to be offset by negative emissions strategies. 

Estimated tons of carbon saved per day

Estimated tons of carbon savings yearly

Estimated tons of carbon savings to date

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UK net zero target

In June 2019, parliament passed legislation requiring the government to reduce the UK’s net emissions of greenhouse gases by 100% relative to 1990 levels by 2050.

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