According to the BEIS’ most recent report on public attitudes to climate change1, 84% of people said that they were concerned about climate change, with 41% saying they were “very concerned.” Clearly, and rightly, the public is deeply concerned about the effects of climate change and how to tackle it. But with a plethora of different terms, it can be difficult to fully comprehend where we are at, what we can do and how we achieve climate goals as individuals, organisations, and nations.
This CPD article aims to guide you through the terminology often used, what the current UK goals are as well as some insight as to how businesses can help achieve those goals.
What are greenhouse gases?
Before diving into net zero and beyond, it’s important to understand the nuance within the definitions of greenhouse gases and carbon dioxide, as these are often incorrectly. Understanding these terms is important for our understanding of the climate change terminology we’re here to grasp. Greenhouse gases are gases in the earth’s atmosphere that trap heat. The main greenhouse gases are carbon dioxide, methane, nitrous oxide, and hydrofluorocarbons.
Carbon dioxide (Co2) contributes to around 76% of global greenhouse gas emissions2. The other 24% of greenhouse gas emissions include gases such as methane, nitrous oxide, and hydrofluorocarbons.
What is net zero?
Net zero means that a business, organisation, or nation's total greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions are equal to or lower than the emissions it has removed from the environment. To aim to achieve net zero, an organisation must seek to reduce all greenhouse gas emissions as much as possible and take action to offset any remaining emissions they produce. An important distinction here is that net zero refers to all greenhouse gases, not just carbon emissions.
Net zero vs carbon neutral: What is the difference between carbon neutral and net zero?
As noted above, net zero refers to the amount of all greenhouse gases (GHGs) - such as carbon dioxide, methane, or nitrous oxide - that are emitted being equal to or less than the amount removed from the atmosphere.
Carbon neutrality means that the amount of carbon removed from the atmosphere equals the carbon emitted. This, essentially, is a narrower term for net zero that is limited to the removal of carbon, not all greenhouse gases. As previously mentioned, carbon dioxide makes up the majority of greenhouse gases (76%) which is why tackling carbon emissions is an important focus. However, to concentrate solely on carbon is to overlook the remaining 24% of greenhouse gases. Because of this, net zero is (for many) the ultimate aim when it comes to climate goals.