Friday, November 5, 2021
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What is a good Net Zero Target?

With the United Nations’ COP26 event in full swing, climate change and the term net-zero have become increasingly popular terms in global headlines. Building on this recent momentum, we thought it would be diligent to share some guidelines and best practices for how to create and structure net-zero targets. In the following blog post, we will outline what makes a good net-zero target to allow you to better understand and judge the commitments that governments around the world have been making before and during the COP proceedings:

Net-zero goals tie back to the crucial Paris Agreement of 2015. Of the 191 Parties that agreed to the Paris Agreement, a total of 131 countries have now adopted, announced or are considering net zero targets, covering about 73% of global emissions.

While net zero is a critical longer-term goal, steep emissions cuts – especially by the largest greenhouse-gas emitters – are imperative in the next 5 to 10 years in order to keep global warming to no more than 1.5 °C and maintain a livable climate for future generations.

The Climate Action Tracker has developed a method for evaluating government net zero targets: it is applicable only to net zero targets set by national governments, not other subnational or non-state actors, especially corporations, whose different emissions boundaries and, in many cases, reliance on creative accounting methods to claim net zero, warrant special attention.

Climate Change news has identified ten key elements to assess whether a net zero target’s scope, architecture, and transparency meet what is define as good practice. They are as follows:

  1. Target year: Governments should communicate their target year, or short period (such as a five-year interval), for achieving net zero.
  2. Emissions coverage: Net zero targets should cover all greenhouse gases, all sources, and all economic sectors.
  3. International aviation and shipping: Net zero targets should cover emissions from international aviation and international shipping.
  4. Reductions or removals outside of own borders: The most transparent and comprehensive net zero targets explicitly state that the country will reach net zero emissions within its own borders.
  5. Legal status: Net zero targets should be enshrined in national law.
  6. Separate reduction and removal targets: Including separate sub-targets for emission reductions and removals creates transparency and makes it easier to track progress.
  7. Review process: A legally binding, regular review and revision of the target, and progress against it.
  8. Carbon dioxide removal: Transparent assumptions on the role of the land use, land-use change, and forestry (LuluCF) sector and separate assumptions of technical carbon dioxide removal (CDR) options provide clarity on how a country wants to achieve net zero. Removals cannot replace deep emission reductions, and should be used to balance emissions that cannot be rapidly abated and to realize net negative emissions after achieving net zero. Particular caution should be taken over the use of forest and other ecosystem-based removals because of their high uncertainties and risk of carbon re-release from increasingly adverse climatic conditions.
  9. Comprehensive planning: A comprehensive planning process and actionable short and medium-term measures to reach net zero increase the chances of a target’s successful implementation.
  10. Clarity on fairness of target: A government should explain why its target is a ‘fair’ contribution to the global goal of limiting warming to 1.5˚C. Developed countries in particular should explain how they will make up for any difference between what would be a fair contribution and what would be a realistic contribution, for example by supporting other countries in decarbonizing their economies without claiming credits for use towards their own targets.

With these ten key elements in mind, you should now be able to identify the good net-zero targets from the bad. We hope you found this article helpful and insightful, and we look forward to posting more COP26 and climate change related blog content in the near future.

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