Carbon neutral vs. Net-zero

Florine van den Bent

Marketing Manager at Regreener

As the most recent IPCC (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change) report once again revealed, it is imperative that global warming does not exceed 1.5 ᵒC. If it does, there will be irreversible consequences for both people and nature. To achieve this goal, the report says, we need to achieve "net-zero" or "net zero emissions" globally by 2050.

Since the Paris Climate Agreement in 2015, a term like 'net-zero' has become a regular part of climate-related news stories and conversations. But we also often hear the term carbon neutral in the same context, for example in sustainability reports of companies and organizations. Yet there is a substantial difference between these two terminologies and it is important to distinguish between them. What do these terms mean exactly?


Definitions


Carbon neutral --> Carbon neutral means that the amount of greenhouse gases emitted is offset by carbon reducing projects (such as cleaner energy).

Net-zero --> Net-zero means that firstly emissions are reduced, and the remaining emissions are offset by activities that remove carbon from the atmosphere.

Carbon neutral


Being carbon neutral means that there is a balance between producing and reducing carbon from our atmosphere. For a detailed explanation of this concept, please read our blog.

To compensate emissions, 'carbon credits' can be purchased, which are used to support carbon reducing projects. An example of this is renewable energy, such as wind or solar power. As soon as all emissions have been compensated, for example by buying carbon credits, a company or institution can call itself carbon neutral, without the need for actually reducing their own emissions.

Carbon neutrality is an important first step for the sustainability strategy of a company. In addition, in order to achieve the climate targets that have been set, it is necessary for a company to take steps to reduce emissions as well. That is where 'net-zero' comes in.

Through Regreener, companies can purchase carbon offsets to compensate for their emissions. Read more about it here.

An example of carbon reducing projects is wind energy

Net-zero

 
As mentioned, net-zero goes a step further than carbon neutrality. When a company commits to a ‘net-zero journey’, it means that firstly its total emissions must be reduced in line with the most recent climate science, in order to stay within the 1.5 ᵒC warming target. The remaining emissions can then be offset by supporting projects that promote carbon removal.

So there is a difference in the type of carbon offsets that apply to each of the concepts. In order to be carbon neutral it is sufficient to buy carbon avoidance or reduction certificates, for a net-zero journey carbon must be actively removed from the atmosphere by, for example, planting trees or by carbon capture installations, such as installed in Iceland in 2021.

In addition to offsetting Scope 1 and 2 emissions, covering Scope 3 emissions is also necessary for a net-zero journey. This means also looking at indirect emissions, which come from activities throughout the supply chain.
 

The time to act is now

 
It is more important than ever for companies to take action against climate change. Being carbon neutral is an accessible step that can be taken today to balance overall carbon emissions through carbon reduction or avoidance projects.

In addition, it is inevitable that a net-zero journey will have to become the norm for every company, by looking at how current processes can be improved in a way that minimizes carbon emissions.

For both carbon offsets and a net-zero journey, Regreener can help. Contact us via the website or send us an email at info@regreener.eu.

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