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6 Mar 2023

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Challenges and Opportunities with Net Zero

Excerpt posted with permission from ESG Impact Zone. Full article also available.

Like most things designed by humans, net zero efforts aren’t perfect. It’s reasonable to ask: Is it even possible? Our research and practical experience suggest that it can be done, but we have a long way to go.

Here are some reasons for concern:

  • Many net-zero commitments are for the year 2050, and some believe that companies are delaying action to the distant future.
  • Some governments are acting on climate — but their policies could be rolled back after future elections.
  • Changes to business processes are needed, and those can be even more difficult than technological innovation. In food systems, for example, we need fundamental shifts to “regenerative” production and waste reduction.
  • Some sectors, like cement, steel, and aviation, don’t yet have market-ready technologies to deliver net-zero commitments.
  • Net zero efforts can focus on buying carbon credits as “offsets” rather than doing the more difficult work of reducing carbon emissions. Many available offsets are ineffective or even destructive for local communities.

Yet, there’s also reason for hope. For example:

In the energy system, it’s generally agreed that we already have many technologies to decarbonize. Technologies like wind and solar are already cost-competitive with the existing fossil-fuel alternatives, allowing us to generate more low-carbon electricity. There’s also rapid progress on energy storage, which is important for making the electricity produced by renewable energy sources more reliable.

Download this practical guide from B Lab that features information to help business leaders understand the intersection of climate action and social justice and advance a justice-centered approach to climate action.

Operational efficiency efforts that aid net zero can have rapid payoffs and can align with other organizational priorities, like cost reduction.

In terms of removing carbon from the atmosphere — the other part of the net-zero equation — new “regenerative” forestry and agriculture projects avoid some of the issues with carbon offsets. These strategies are long-term and community-based. Technological solutions to carbon removal — like carbon capture — are still not cost-competitive but are receiving increased investment.

We gain hope from the efforts that we see companies taking. They are creative, committed, and often passionate, despite the uncertain odds.

Image from ESG Impact Zone.

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