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Carbon neutral or net zero?

  • by JW

Think tanks and pressure groups battle to control the narrative.



Here’s help for business from edie on how to navigate the carbon neutrality and net zero minefield. And edie does warn that if not done properly, it will look too much like greenwashing.

A recent corporate example demonstrates the pitfalls of creative accounting: “Delta Air Lines is facing a lawsuit over its $1bn carbon neutrality claim which plaintiffs say is ‘false and misleading’ as it relies on offsets that do little to mitigate global heating.” And this is leading to calls that “companies should drop offsetting-based environmental claims and adopt a “climate contribution” model instead.”

Meanwhile, “while oil-funded think tanks and the conservative media try to persuade us that net zero is overly ambitious and unaffordable, the burning world shows us the opposite – that net zero is not ambitious enough.” As conservation scientist Charlie Gardner suggests, ‘a burning world shows Net Zero is not enough’:

Rather than slowly applying the brakes with the aim of stopping by 2050, we should be slamming on the brakes immediately and then shifting into reverse. Simply reducing emissions to net zero is not enough, we should be aiming for net negative so that we can start reducing atmospheric concentrations back down to safe levels. This has implications, among other things, for the idea of carbon offsetting.

Offsetting allows polluters to continue emitting greenhouse gasses, so long as they pay for those gasses to be absorbed and stored elsewhere. Accordingly, the past few years have seen a global craze for tree planting – as governments, corporations and others have taken the quick and visible option of asking nature to do the work rather than taking the difficult steps required to genuinely decarbonise. 


Looking at the current highly charged politics of ‘net zero’, then, there are warnings that net zero ambitions must be pursued in a ‘proportionate and pragmatic way and that we must ‘move away’ from ‘high cost’ policies designed to halt climate change . The reasoning is that “seven times as many people die from cold as from heat in Britain [and] rising temperatures are likely to be beneficial and any net zero policies would have ‘precisely zero effect’ on the global economy ‘unless everyone else in the world is willing to bear the same costs’. 

The deputy director of Carbon Brief Simon Evans unpacks the issues, questioning how nonchalant critics are about the “perfectly manageable consequences of slowly rising temperatures”, while the Earth experiences its hottest month on record and weather extremes hit each of the world’s seven continents.

Meanwhile, the DeSmog group looks at the links protagonists of these nonchalant views have to the Global Warming Policy Foundation, aka a climate science denial group with a pro-fossil fuel agenda – plus the parliamentary pressure group the Net Zero Scrutiny Group which opposes many of the government’s net zero policies.

Giving context, the Conservative Home pages last year looked at the so-called ‘Tory wars over climate change – and the Conservative Environment Network v the Net Zero Scrutiny Group’, with an excerpt here from William Atkinson: 

The Conservative Party does not find it easy being green. Though a few romantic Tory hearts may long for a Disraelian idyll of an unspoiled, eternal countryside, more recent times have seen the party blow both hot and cold over whether the planet is getting hot or staying cold, and what to do about it.Consider four recent leaders.

Margaret Thatcher was ahead of her time on climate change. David Cameron hugged huskies when visiting the Arctic. Theresa May introduced the Net Zero target which has formed a centrepiece of Boris Johnson’s premiership, most prominently at  COP 26 last year.

But those same four also had their premierships propped up by North Sea Oil, scrapped subsidies for onshore wind farms, abolished the Department for Energy and Climate Change on entering Number 10, and subsidised their political career by revving Lamborghinis as fast as they could go. The Party has therefore not been so much afflicted by climate change denialism as climate change schizophrenia.

Nevertheless, it would be foolish to argue that the party’s environmentalist wing of isn’t currently in the ascendant. The Conservative Environment Network announced this week that it has 133 backbenchers signed up, more than a third of the Commons party and half of backbenchers.

At the same time last year, no friend to the governing party, Caroline Lucas MP opined that “The Net Zero Scrutiny Group claim green levies are a burden, yet their own party is cutting spending on energy efficiency” – and so urged the government instead to “keep its manifesto promise to spend £9bn of public money on the energy efficiency that would actually help consumers as well as the planet”.

That was last year – and so the politicking continues – and yet debate is crucial.

To finish, here is a very straightforward guide to net zero from the National Grid.