You are here

Climate change net zero scenario

Aug 30,2023 - Last updated at Aug 30,2023


The International Energy Agency defines a net zero scenario to fight global warming and climate change as a pathway that aims to balance the amount of greenhouse gases (GHGs). These emissions, such as methane and nitrous oxide, are produced by human activities through burning fossil fuels, unsustainable farming, wild fires, deforestation, retrofitting, etc, to be balanced with an equivalent amount of GHGs removed from the atmosphere by various measures. In this scenario, the net emissions would be reduced to as close to zero as possible, and any remaining emissions would be offset by carbon removal techniques or technologies, reforestation, circular economy, sustainable agriculture, carbon capture technologies, renewable energy or other methods of sequestering carbon. 

However, carbon neutral, zero carbon and net carbon are essentially synonymous terms that refer to balancing out the amount of carbon emissions produced by either reducing those emissions or offsetting them through various means. The goal is to achieve a net balance between the carbon emissions released into the atmosphere and the carbon removed from the atmosphere, ultimately resulting in no additional carbon being added to the environment.

The concept of carbon trading and offsets is a topic of debate. Carbon trading, born from the Kyoto Protocol 1997, allows nations to buy/sell carbon emission allowances. While it is intended to help industrialised countries reduce their carbon emissions by investing in projects that offset emissions in other areas, critics argue that it might allow developed countries continue emitting carbon while appearing to take action. It is, therefore, essential for international agreements and policies to be well-designed and rigorously monitored to ensure that they genuinely contribute to mitigating climate change, rather than becoming a global trade at the expense of underdeveloped countries, and eventually a cover up for business as usual.

EU plans to cut greenhouse gas emissions by at least 55 per cent by 2030 are setting Europe on a responsible path to becoming carbon neutral by 2050. However, Norway`s neutral carbon target year is in the 2030s, Finland 2035, Iceland 2040, Sweden and Germany 2045, France, UK and Finland 2050. Other countries like New Zealand and Canada by 2050. However, the most polluting countries, China, US, India, Japan and Russia have different plans. China's carbon dioxide emissions will strive to reach the peak by 2030 and thereafter try to achieve carbon neutrality by 2060. President Joe Biden signed an executive order to make the federal government carbon-neutral by 2050. Russia strives to be carbon neutral by 2060, but with the war in Ukraine plans might change. Japan’s commitment is to reduce GHG emissions by 26 per cent from 2013 levels by 2030 and achieving net zero GHG emissions by 2050. India hopes to achieve net zero emissions by 2070, reflecting the notion that climate change is not one of its priorities.

Ultimately, addressing climate change requires a multifaceted approach, including transitioning to renewable energy sources, improving energy efficiency, reforestation and making meaningful efforts to reduce carbon emissions across the board. However, achieving truly zero carbon emissions is exceptionally challenging, especially when considering sectors like agriculture and transportation. While achieving zero carbon emissions might be more feasible for specific contexts like passive houses and clean energy production, it is important to aim for significant emissions reductions in all sectors. This requires more investment in research and development which proved feasible and competitive in the energy sector for example.

In sectors such as agriculture, there are efforts to develop and implement more sustainable practices, like regenerative farming practices which help sequester carbon in the soil. Also, hydroponic and aquaponic farming as well as supporting sustainable agriculture practices by reducing methane emissions from livestock and nitrous oxide emissions from fertilisers. Encouraging a circular economy approach minimises waste and emissions, and so does promoting recycling and encouraging behavioural change by individuals and businesses to adopt sustainable practices to reduce their carbon footprints through awareness campaigns and incentives.

In transportation, a shift to electric or hydrogen-powered vehicles and improvements in public transportation can significantly reduce emissions, which have already proved viable and competitive and can be seen on the roads in Jordan at present, particularly after developing more efficient and durable vehicle batteries. However, it is essential to develop enough charging stations at reasonable prices to meet the demand in order to encourage and sustain this climate friendly approach. The existing method of charging vehicles with electricity generated from gas is not a green approach and is considered green washing rather than genuine green activities.

Net zero scenarios are considered crucial in the fight against climate change, as they are designed to limit global warming to well below 2ºC above pre-industrial levels, pursuing efforts to limit it to 1.5ºC, as per the goals outlined in the Paris Agreement 2015. An example of a pathway to achieve a net zero scenario is advocation to a transition to renewable energy such as solar, wind, and hydroelectric power to replace fossil fuels for electricity generation, as well as expanding on energy efficiency in residential, public, commercial and industrial buildings. 

Encouraging afforestation and reforestation activities by planting trees and restoring degraded forests helps to absorb carbon dioxide from the atmosphere effectively and thus reduce emissions. It is also necessary to protect green areas from wild fires by leaving clear spaces in dense forests, designing water storage areas, observation posts, trimming low branches and cleaning up dry mulch to avoid fires and protect forests against arson which has become common in the past years due to the rising cost of fuel. 

Another main action is reducing industrial emissions by implementing cleaner technologies and processes in industries. Deploying carbon capture technologies in industrial processes and power plants to capture CO2 emissions before they are released into the atmosphere, and then stored underground or used in various applications. 

By combining these strategies and actions, among others, net zero scenarios can be achieved, where the amount of greenhouse gas emissions produced is balanced with an equivalent amount removed from the atmosphere, helping to mitigate the impacts of climate change. Of course, keeping in mind that the specific mix of strategies may vary depending on the region`s wealth, development, demography, culture, weather conditions, incentives, ethical behavior, responsibility level and available resources.


Ayoub Abu Dayyeh is an energy and green buildings consultant

72 users have voted.


Get top stories and blog posts emailed to you each day.