There is an ever-expanding list of organisations that are making commitments to become Net Zero but with the differing definitions of what this means, we aim to provide clarity to help our clients take the next steps on their climate journey.

Since the publication of the special report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), limiting global warming to 1.5 degrees celsius and achieving "Net Zero" have become synonymous with real and ambitious action on climate change – the ultimate goal for a greener future. We need substantial transformation within the next decade to prevent irreversible damage from climate change.

The Vision of Net Zero

A world in which greenhouse gas emissions have been reduced to a minimum - and remaining emissions removed from the atmosphere.

The IPCC defines Net Zero as a state where there is no incremental addition of GHGs to the atmosphere. This means all avoidable emissions have been reduced and thus residual emissions have to be removed from the atmosphere. On the path to pursuing this target companies should:

  • Set a Net Zero target based on science with interim milestones on how to get there, consistent with a 1.5ºC mitigation pathway.
  • Show how they can reduce emissions across their value chain in line with climate science.
  • Be climate neutral by financing projects to further avoid and remove emissions throughout their journey towards Net Zero
  • Eventually neutralise unavoidable residual emissions with carbon removals to achieve Net Zero emissions.

The Science Based Targets initiative has recently updated their guiding principles which aligns with these recommendations. You can find more detail in their report: Foundations For Science-based Net-zero Target Setting In The Corporate Sector.

Reducing emissions in line with science

Ambitious efforts to reduce emissions across a company's value chain represent the backbone of a credible Net Zero journey. Companies must aim to reduce emissions within their value chains at a pace and scale consistent with mitigation pathways that limit global warming to 1.5°C - as laid out by the IPCC. Compensation and neutralisation measures can supplement and enhance Net Zero strategies but are not considered a substitute for science-based emission reduction pathways.

Reductions can be achieved by improving energy and resource efficiency, switching to renewable energy, designing targeted supply chain interventions, and by developing new innovations in product or service delivery models.

The role of carbon avoidance

Carbon avoidance entails financing a project that avoids the emission of greenhouse gases. Such projects could include the recovery and utilisation of biogas, the replacement of inefficient cookstoves with less polluting ones, efforts to manage and recycle waste, or investments in energy efficiency.

The role of carbon removals

Carbon removals can be achieved in different ways, for example through nature-based solutions, such as reforestation and soil carbon sequestration, or using technological solutions, such as direct carbon capture and storage. For carbon removals outside a company's value chain, South Pole recommends an extension of existing carbon credit standards to enable a transparent attribution to a specific company.

The role of Carbon Neutrality

Avoided or removed emissions through the purchase of carbon credits enable companies to contribute to climate change mitigation beyond their value chains, while actively supporting other important goals, such as climate change adaptation, climate finance and the SDGs. For example, supporting forest conservation projects is key to protecting our declining ecosystems and to avoid biodiversity loss.

Climate finance flows to developing countries play a key role in reversing a future rise in emissions linked to growing populations and economic development, while unlocking multiple sustainable development benefits.

No one-size fits all: Net Zero is a process

A Net Zero strategy should not be viewed as an additional requirement but rather as a process – one that is unique to each company. Working towards Net Zero should help companies unify ongoing efforts under a single initiative and reevaluate the ambition of existing targets.

What is important in South Pole's view is that Net Zero targets are transparent and ambitious, anchored in science, and support the sustainable development agenda.


Check out what the experts had to say about Net Zero in our recent Climate Chatter - Making Sense of Net Zero and Climate Positive.


Getting to Zero: what's in it for you?

The first movers to pursue corporate Net Zero targets will be the leaders and advocates for changing the way we do better business. This will also hedge against the risk of evertightening government policies and investor scrutiny, and create business opportunities in zero emission solutions.

The business benefits of pursuing a Net Zero strategy are many:

  • Guided by science, companies can align with the global climate policy agenda.
  • Companies can use Net Zero as a pathway to safeguard your reputation, accelerate innovation and competitive advantage.
  • Forward-looking companies know that delaying action on emission reductions will be costly, as the cost of tackling climate change increases with every year of delay.
  • By being climate neutral on the way, a company accelerates their climate action.

How can South Pole help?

South Pole believes that a Net Zero target is a part of every organisation's Climate Journey. Our experts have tools and techniques to help you formulate your Net Zero strategy, set science-based targets and develop and implement ambitious reduction strategies, wherever you are on your Climate Journey.

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