Zero Emissions Day and its significance in today’s world

Zero Emissions Day – September 21,  which is aimed at putting Global 24 hours prohibition on the consumption of fossil fuels. The day started on March 21, 2008, with the launch of a website calling for “A Global Moratorium on Fossil Fuel Combustion on September 21” in Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada. The idea behind it was to give a rest day to emissions and the environment.

It is up to us to take care of our planet at especially at this point when the emissions are at an unprecedented level. Zero Emissions Day provides us with the opportunity to benefit everything and everyone on our planet. 

Let us understand first what exactly net-zero emissions means?

Emissions trends since 1850
Image Source: https://ourworldindata.org/co2-and-other-greenhouse-gas-emissions

What does Net Zero Emissions mean?

Net zero-emission means that all man-made greenhouse gas emissions must be removed from the atmosphere through reduction measures, thus reducing the Earth’s net climate balance, after removal via natural and artificial sink. – IPCC report 2018 

Major emissions come from sectors including Agriculture, Industrial & Manufacturing, Electricity Generation, Construction, and Transportation.  

Now the question arises why net zero? Why there is lot of talk going around this topic? 

Why Net Zero Emissions:

Everyone knows that there is a direct relation between emissions temperature rise, the Greenhouse Effect, and Global Warming. You can read more about them in my previous blog post. Click here    

Emissions of gases such as CO₂, methane, and other greenhouse gases must be reduced to the point the whole system is back in balance again. This is the only way to be carbon neutral and global temperature stabilization. 

Deadline to reach zero emissions to prevent warming of 1.5 ºC and 2 ºC:

1) To return warming to below 1.5ºC by 2100 with a more than 50% chance:

  • Global emissions of CO2 only must reach zero by around 2050 (range 2045-2050).
  • Global emissions of all greenhouse gases must reach zero by 2060-2080.

The shorter time frame for CO2 emissions is to ensure a full phase-out of energy-related fossil fuel emissions. The phase-out for gases such as methane and agricultural-related CO2 emissions may take longer.

The phase-out dates above for having a more than 50% chance of returning to below 1.5ºC by 2100 correspond to having a “high probability”, i.e., about 85%, to hold warming below 2ºC during the 21st century.

2) To limit warming below 2ºC by 2100 with a “likely probability” (of more than a 66% chance):

  • Global emissions of CO2 must reach zero at a slightly later timeframe of around 2055-2070.
  • Global emissions of all greenhouse gases must reach zero by a slightly later timeframe of 2080-2100.

The Graph below explains this perfectly.

Estimated reduction in emissions to achieve net-zero emissions
Image Source: http://track0.org/wp-content/uploads/2016/06/Slide1.jpg

To reach net-zero emissions we must include the fact we cannot completely plummet the emissions from sectors such as Agriculture. So, we need to remove the inevitable greenhouse gas emissions to reach zero emissions for that we need to focus on negative emissions (positive plus higher negative value = negative). 

What are the ways to achieve Negative emissions?  

Out of all greenhouse gases, the one which can be easily removed/absorbed is carbon dioxide. This can be done majorly in two ways: First, let nature absorb it and second, by developing technologies that do the task.

Nature – plants absorb carbon dioxide through a process called photosynthesis and they utilized it to make food. Hence, growing more plants is going to remove more carbon dioxide from the atmosphere 

Technologies such as Bioenergy with Carbon Capture and Storage (BECCS) and Direct Air Capture have the highest potential. 

11 billion tonnes of carbon dioxide (GtCO2) might need to be removed sucked from the air each year by mid-century in order to keep global warming below 2 ºC. Even higher amounts will be required to remove to limit the warming to 1.5 ºC. (Current Global Emissions are around 50 GtCO2) 

Hurdles to achieve Net Zero Emissions:

  • As mentioned above achieving Net-Zero Emission require both emissions reduction and removing the emitted emissions. The goal will be reached when both of them are in balance. Let’s say if we are more focused on removal, then how we are going to account for releases.  
  • There could be negative side-effects associated with NET (Negative Emissions Technology), as they are in the preparatory stages. Compared to carbon emissions prevented by mitigation (reducing the emissions), carbon stored in forests, soils, and geological stores could leak back into the atmosphere causing a very sudden rise in temperature. Besides, there does not exist large scale systems for their implementation.
  • Plans of Net-Zero depending on future carbon removal instead of reducing emissions now are very risky. Consider that if the technologies estimated to remove large amounts of carbon in the 2040s and 2050s would result in a complete disaster and may lead to a rebound in emissions. Very ironically, researching and investing in carbon removal techniques to reduce uncertainties might increase the expectations of future removals. And such expectations could decrease efforts to accelerate mitigation now. 
Side effects of negative emissions
Image Source: https://ca1-eci.edcdn.com/briefings/_720xAUTO_crop_center-center_none/ECIUB-Negative_Emissions-06.png?mtime=20200825145114&focal=none&tmtime=20200825145134
  • Negative emissions have already substituted for emissions reductions instead of supplementing them. For instance – many forest protection projects would have happened, but such carbon sink enhancements (a form of negative emissions) are traded as offsets in carbon markets implying emissions get to continue elsewhere instead of being reduced. Besides such deployments imply specific technological forms, enabling investments and regulatory regimes which in turn risk locking-in applications of the technology that sustain or encourage fossil fuel use. For example, many of the minimal number of BECCS developments so far provide CO2 for enhanced oil recovery, creating more emissions. 

Overcoming the Hurdles:

The major problem associated with net-zero is which method (reduction or removal) to employ and what is the right way to employ each method. 

The possible solution to this question – separating negative emissions targets and emissions reductions rather than combining them in a single “net-zero” goal. Explicitly setting and managing targets and accounting for negative emissions, separately from existing and future targets for emissions reductions, at all levels from international to sectoral could help to solve the problems mentioned above and maximize the additionality of carbon removal and ensuring that negative emissions are appropriately valued. 

Who is leading the way to net-zero emissions?

Many countries have already set targets or committed to do so for reaching net-zero emissions on timescales compatible with Paris Agreement temperature goals (keeping global warming to 2 ºC and trying best to limit it to 1.5 ºC rise). 

Countries including UK, Germany, France, Spain, Norway, Denmark, Switzerland, Portugal, New Zealand, Chile Costa Rica (2050), Sweden (2045), Iceland, Austria (2040), and Finland (2035) have set targets to achieve net-zero emissions. The small kingdom at the foothills of the Himalayas, “Bhutan” is already carbon-negative meaning the country absorbs more carbon emissions than it emits. Also, the European Union recently agreed to enshrine its political commitment to be carbon neutral by 2050 in its European Climate Law

The CCC (Committee on Climate Change) of the UK, Scotland, and whales delivered its advice in May 2019 to keep up with the Paris Agreement. Its recommendations were:

For the UK, a new target: net-zero greenhouse gases by 2050 (up from the existing emissions reductions target of 80% from 1990 levels by 2050). For Scotland, a net-zero date of 2045, ‘reflecting Scotland’s greater relative capacity to remove emissions than the UK as a whole’. For Wales, a 95% reduction in greenhouse gases by 2050, reflecting it having ‘less opportunity for CO2 storage and relatively high agricultural emissions that are hard to reduce’.

The principle that rich nations should lead on climate change is enshrined in the UN climate convention that dates back to 1992 and was confirmed in the Paris Agreement. 

So far, the UK, France, Sweden, Norway, and Denmark have enshrined their net-zero targets in national law. Other nations including Spain, Chile, and Fiji are looking to do so.

Clearly, Europe is the winner when it comes to net-zero emissions.

What can we as individuals do to achieve net-zero emissions:

  • Major carbon emissions come from the agriculture sector (Primarily from animal rearing and consumption of dairy-based products) – shifting to a vegan diet will give tremendous results in reducing an individual’s carbon emissions.
  • The transport sector is another major sector accounting for GHGs emissions – flying less, carpooling, using electric vehicles, cycling, etc can help to reduce emissions a lot.
  • Spreading awareness, many people are not aware of global warming and climate change so educating people about such important issues would be of great importance in reducing emissions.
  • Food-waste is also causing a lot of emissions, methane a very harmful Greenhouse gas (having an impact of several times as compared to CO2) is released from food-waste. Globally, one-third of the food produced is wasted. Being more careful about how much food you buy would also have a great impact on reducing emissions. 
  • Shifting to renewable energy, we can put solar panels on our roofs to power our homes this will reduce the consumption of energy generated from fossil fuels. Buying Green energy can also be an option. 
  • Planting trees and tacking care of them till the time they can grow on their own, would help to suck up the carbon from the atmosphere.
  • Building sustainable smart cities –  the cities that use technology to make people live more comfortable and safe plus having a positive impact on the environment i.e. being sustainable.
  • Having fewer children would also play a major role in reducing emissions as more the people more the emissions. You could read more about how the population results in increased emissions in this article. Click here.
  • Analyzing your daily routine and finding which task generates more emissions and then modifying those tasks to reduce emissions.

Several other steps can be taken depending upon individual to individual. This just requires a small shift in lifestyle.

My opinion:

There has been a lot of talk about net-zero emissions during the past decade. It is very important that we achieve zero emissions as soon as possible to meet the Paris Agreement Targets.

I totally agree with the fact that both the ways to reach net-zero emissions-cutting down emissions and removing the already emitted emissions are equally important. Even if we immediately reduce the emissions to reduce earth will continue to warm up as GHGs already released into the atmosphere especially CO2 remain in the atmosphere for hundreds of years. Uncertainty in Negative Emissions Technologies makes it impossible to completely rely on them.

We need to design policies including both the techniques properly and implement them as soon as possible. Also, individual contributions count a lot. Investments in renewable energy need to increased and a complete shift from fossil fuel-derived energy to renewable energy needs to be made.

Remember the clock is ticking very fast and there is very little time lest to prevent the catastrophic changes in climate. 

References: 

  1. https://ourworldindata.org/co2-and-other-greenhouse-gas-emissions
  2. https://www.ecomena.org/zero-emissions-day/\
  3. http://track0.org/why-net-zero/scientific-imperative/
  4. https://www.carbonbrief.org/guest-post-the-problem-with-net-zero-emissions-targets
  5. https://eciu.net/analysis/briefings/net-zero/net-zero-why
  6. https://eciu.net/analysis/briefings/net-zero/negative-emissions-why-what-how
  7. https://eciu.net/analysis/briefings/net-zero/negative-emissions-why-what-how
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Yash

Yash loves to read and write on issues such as climate change, renewable energy, SDGs, and other related issues. He wants to make people aware of climate change and encourage them to follow a sustainable lifestyle.

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