In preparation for our May 6th webinar with Gold Standard on the concepts of Net Zero and Climate Positivity, here's a brief overview of what to expect and the key building blocks behind it all.

Having no net emissions in the atmosphere by 2050 is scientifically heralded as essential to put us on track for a sustainable world with thriving ecosystems, healthy people, and prosperous economies. To achieve this on a global level, we have to attack the problem from two ends: dramatically decrease emissions while ramping up carbon sinks. How can businesses support this global, long-term goal with measurable actions today?

Net Zero – a rapidly evolving debate

Since the publication of the special report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), “Net Zero" has also become synonymous with real, ambitious action on climate change – the ultimate goal for a greener future. To date, more than 70 countries, close to 400 cities and nearly 200 businesses say they have adopted a position on Net Zero.

But what does it actually mean? Let's take a minute to tease out the issues.

A lack of widely accepted standards or frameworks to define what “Net Zero" and “Climate Positive" targets should look like has led to a lively debate regarding possible approaches and best practice. Existing Net Zero commitments by companies differ significantly in terms of their scope and the mitigation strategies used to achieve them. In other words, companies' measures to reduce emissions and efforts to avoid and/or remove emissions vary greatly.

Despite the sense of confusion around Net Zero claims, urgent transformation is necessary to avoid runaway emissions, and those who are putting their head above the parapet by committing to ambitious, results-based action should be encouraged – and applauded.

Reducing, avoiding and removing emissions: what companies can do today for Net Zero

In a nutshell, to limit global warming at 1.5 degrees celsius, our global emissions need to reach 'net zero' by 2050. Businesses can support this goal in three ways:

  • Reduce: drastically reduce their own emissions
  • Avoid: finance emission avoidance activities outside their own operational boundaries to accelerate global decarbonisation
  • Remove: invest in carbon sinks, be it nature-based solutions like reforestation, or technology-based solutions such as direct air capture and storage

The current debate revolves around the best possible combination of these three approaches, the scope of activities that would qualify under each, as well as the level of ambition and the timeframe of selected activities.

In practical terms, corporate emission reduction goals should be ambitious, long-term and ideally aligned with the Science-Based Targets Initiative. Reductions can be achieved by harvesting energy efficiency potentials, switching to green power, or through targeted interventions in the supply chain.

Avoiding emissions can mean financing certified climate action in places that urgently require support and that contribute to sustainable development by developing greener ways to overcome poverty – by, for example, protecting vital rainforests and supporting sustainable livelihood opportunities. In addition to climate finance contributions, companies are increasingly expected to develop strategies on how their products and services can help others to reduce emissions.

As carbon sinks are still limited and costly, investments into removal technologies are required today in order to scale them up by mid-century. Various studies show the critical importance, but also limited potential, of nature-based solutions like planting trees. Hence a combination of nature-based and technology-based solutions, such as direct air capture and storage, will be required.

Timing is everything

2050 is no longer a goalpost far off in the distant future. Reaching Net Zero begs for radical action today. In an ideal world, all opportunities for avoiding and reducing emissions should be successfully exhausted by 2050. By then, we should be in a place where carbon removals are the only way to balance out the unavoidable carbon from our industrial and individual activities.

Unfortunately, we are not there yet – not even close – and there is an overwhelming amount of climate mitigation to be done in just 30 years to reach such a future. The
UN has warned that we must ramp up activities in the present decade to prevent irreversible damage from climate change. Which is why, today, intentionally reducing, avoiding and starting to remove emissions over the long-term are imperatives for sound business behaviour.

Changing the way we do business, for the better

Businesses will be impacted by Net Zero targets by governments – but they can also play a part in building a Net Zero vision.

The first movers to pursue corporate Net Zero targets will be the leaders and advocates for changing the way we do business, for the better. Doing this will also hedge against the risk of ever-tightening policy and investor scrutiny on carbon-intensive operations, and create opportunities in zero emission solutions.

True leadership is also acknowledging that transitions can be challenging – and
we do not want to leave anyone behind. This is why we must invest in actions that also support the people who will be impacted by these radical changes.

Building the abilities and the collective resilience to successfully adapt to and, ideally, thrive in a changing climate is our shared responsibility. A well-designed, corporate Net Zero strategy that combines reductions, avoidance and removal of emissions can help us tackle the climate crisis and promote green economic opportunities for the less privileged at the same time.


South Pole invites you to learn more about the Framework for a Net-Zero Emissions Economy in our Climate Chatter webinar on 6 May, 2020 – how the framework has evolved, and how this will change the carbon business as we know it. Register your interest here.

Our team will continue to contribute in a constructive way to the Net Zero debate, making the case for ambitious and inclusive solutions, working together with private and public sector leaders across the globe. Our integrated offering along the Climate Action Journey helps tailor solutions for corporates to reduce emissions within their boundaries, but also finance global avoidance and removal activities – through either certified carbon credits or investments into impact funds. More importantly, we can help empower frontrunners to take results-based climate action, today.