The global commitment to achieve net zero emissions by 2050 has garnered widespread attention, with 127 countries, including major players like the EU, US, UK, and China, pledging to reduce their carbon dioxide emissions to zero. This commitment is echoed by numerous companies aligning with net zero targets, reflecting a collective acknowledgment of the urgent need to halt greenhouse gas emissions to stabilise the climate.
However, the journey towards net zero is fraught with challenges and deceptive practices in carbon accounting. Despite long-term pledges, immediate actions fall short, with projected emissions in 2030 barely below the 2010 levels. This discrepancy highlights the gap between commitment and action, necessitating a critical evaluation of the practices and politics surrounding net zero targets.
The Science and Deception of Net Zero
Achieving net zero requires every sector in every country to maintain zero emissions on average. While feasible solutions exist for electricity, cars, buildings, and many industries, sectors like aviation and agriculture struggle to eliminate emissions entirely. To counterbalance these persistent emissions, there’s a need for negative emissions or carbon removal practices, ranging from low-tech solutions like reforestation to high-tech methods involving carbon dioxide extraction and underground storage.
However, reliance on carbon removal methods often leads to self-deception. For instance, companies like Shell plan to continue high oil and gas production levels, relying on negative emissions to offset their environmental impact. This approach is unsustainable due to limited land for afforestation and the non-existence of large-scale high-tech carbon removal methods.
Offsetting: A Dangerous Illusion
Offsetting practices further contribute to the deception in carbon accounting. Former Bank of England governor Mark Carney declared his Brookfield Asset Management portfolio carbon neutral despite investments in fossil fuels, citing offsetting through renewable energy investments. However, this approach does not equate to net zero, as it doesn’t actively remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere but merely avoids additional emissions.
Moreover, the global carbon market, which should ideally support additional emission reductions or carbon capture, is flooded with outdated carbon credits that offer no real climate benefits. These credits originate from already completed projects, rendering them ineffective in contributing to additional climate mitigation efforts.
Navigating Through Carbon Deceptions
Addressing these deceptive practices is crucial for the credibility and effectiveness of net zero commitments. While negative emissions and offsets are necessary to some extent, their application needs careful consideration and regulation. Identifying which emissions are genuinely hard to eliminate and require offsetting is a vital first step.
Ensuring trustworthy carbon accounting requires robust, science-based, and independent regulation to prevent malpractices and facilitate the investment needed for genuine climate stabilisation efforts. Addressing and resolving these carbon accounting deceptions should be a priority at global climate summits, including the upcoming Glasgow Cop26.
The Risk of Unchecked Carbon Markets
If these deceptive practices continue unchecked, the expansion of carbon markets, led by influential financial figures, could result in financial products with little impact on actual emissions. This scenario could lead to a global financial crisis reminiscent of the sub-prime crisis, with investors unaware of the true value and impact of their purchases. Such a crisis would exacerbate both economic and climate challenges, underscoring the urgent need for transparency and accountability in carbon accounting and emissions reduction efforts.
A Call for Transparency and Accountability
As the world navigates towards a net-zero future, transparency and accountability in carbon accounting are non-negotiable. The deceptive practices currently prevalent in the journey towards net zero emissions not only jeopardise the credibility of these commitments but also risk precipitating global crises that compound the challenges humanity faces. Addressing these issues head-on, with science and integrity as guiding principles, is imperative for the success of global climate stabilisation efforts.
Frequently Asked Questions
What deceptive practices exist in carbon accounting? Some firms rely heavily on carbon removal and outdated carbon credits while not actively reducing emissions.
Is offsetting the same as achieving net zero? No, offsetting only avoids additional emissions without removing existing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere.
What risks do deceptive carbon practices pose? They can lead to mistrust in net zero commitments and potential financial crises due to overvalued carbon market products.
How can we ensure transparency in carbon accounting? Through robust, science-based, and independent regulations and accountability in using offsets and negative emissions.
Why is addressing carbon deception crucial? It’s vital for the credibility of net zero commitments and the success of global climate stabilisation efforts.