Why ‘net zero’ carbon targets may not be enough to tackle climate change
Why in the news?
- Recently, a report released by Oxfam has noted that ‘net zero’ carbon targets that many countries have announced may be a “dangerous distraction” from the priority of cutting carbon emissions.
- Oxfam is a group of independent non-governmental organizations focusing on the alleviation of global poverty.
Which countries have recently announced net-zero targets?
- In 2019, the New Zealand and the UK’s parliament passed legislation requiring the government to reduce the net emissions of greenhouse gases by 100 percent relative to 1990 levels by the year 2050.
- More recently, the US announced that the country will cut its greenhouse gas emissions by at least 50 per cent below 2005 levels by 2030.
- The European Union too, has a similar plan, called “Fit for 55” which mandates all of its 27 member countries to cut emissions by 55 per cent below 1990 levels by 2030.
- Last year, China also announced that it would become net-zero by the year 2060 and that it would not allow its emissions to peak beyond what they are in 2030.
- India is yet to announce a net-zero target.
What does net-zero mean?
- Net-zero, which is also referred to as carbon-neutrality, does not mean that a country would bring down its emissions to zero.
- That would be gross-zero, which means reaching a state where there are no emissions at all, a scenario hard to comprehend. Therefore, net-zero is a state in which a country’s emissions are compensated by absorption and removal of greenhouse gases from the atmosphere.
- One way by which carbon can be absorbed is by creating carbon sinks. Until recently, the Amazon rainforests in South America, which are the largest tropical forests in the world, were carbon sinks. But eastern parts of these forests have started emitting CO2 instead of absorbing carbon emissions as a result of significant deforestation.
- This way, it is even possible for a country to have negative emissions, if the absorption and removal exceed the actual emissions. Bhutan has negative emissions, because it absorbs more than it emits.
What does the Oxfam report say?
- It says that to limit global warming below 1.5°C and to prevent irreversible damage from climate change, the world needs to collectively be on track and should aim to cut emissions by 45 per cent by 2030 from 2010 levels, with the sharpest being made by the biggest emitters.
- Currently, countries’ plans to cut emissions will only lead to a one per cent reduction by the year 2030.
- Significantly, if only land-based methods to deal with climate change are used, food rises are expected to rise even more. Oxfam estimates that they could rise by 80 per cent by the year 2050.
- Oxfam’s report shows that if the entire energy sector -whose emissions continue to soar- were to set similar ‘net-zero’ targets, it would require an area of land nearly the size of the Amazon rainforest, equivalent to a third of all farmland worldwide.
- The report emphasises that reducing emissions cannot be considered a substitute for cutting emissions, and these should be counted separately.
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