I’ve written about this before, but thought I might discuss it again. There seems to be a recurring narrative that the concept of net-zero is flawed. It might first have been presented in this article suggesting that the concept of net-zero is a dangerous trap. I agree with much of what is presented in the article. Net-zero plans tend to rely on technologies that have not been shown to work at a suitable scale, or rely on technologies that will almost certainly not work as intended. Additionally, a consequence of relying on these technologies is that there has been little in the way of actual emission reductions. It’s likely that this will continue as new net-zero plans are developed that will probably also rely on carbon removal technologies, rather than on actual emission reductions. However, none of this explains why the concept of net-zero is flawed.
The basics is all very simple. Global warming is happening, it is pre-dominantly due to the human emission of greenhouse gases, mostly carbon dioxide, and will continue while carbon dioxide continues to be emitted into the atmosphere. Consequently, stopping global warming requires that human-caused carbon dioxide emissions go to zero. This could happen through simply stopping emissions, or through removing and storing as much carbon dioxide as is emitted into the atmosphere. Hence, net-zero.
That many plans for reaching net-zero may not actually achieve this goal and may be being used to delay making actual emission reductions doesn’t mean that the concept is flawed. Why not criticise the net-zero plans, which may well be dis-ingenuous, rather than claiming that the concept is flawed? Claims that the concept of net-zero is flawed makes it sound like we shouldn’t be aiming for net-zero which, given the current net-zero plans, may well be where we are currently heading.
What I don’t get is why those who create this narrative don’t do so in a way that makes clear that they’re criticising they way in which the concept is being used, rather than the concept itself. As Gavin Schmidt points out in this debate with Benny Peiser, the basics that underpin net-zero are pretty simple and very well understood.