Net Zero Carbon Target may not be enough

  • IASbaba
  • August 5, 2021
  • 0
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  • GS-3: Conservation, environmental pollution and degradation
  • GS-2: Effect of policies and politics of developed and developing countries on India’s interests 

 Net Zero Carbon Target may not be enough

Context: Independent charitable organization Oxfam has said that ‘net zero’ carbon targets that many countries have announced maybe a “dangerous distraction” from the priority of cutting carbon emissions.

Which countries have recently announced net-zero targets?

  • In 2019, the New Zealand government passed the Zero Carbon Act, which committed the country to zero carbon emissions by 2050 or sooner.
  • In 2019, the UK’s parliament passed legislation requiring the government to reduce the UK’s net emissions of greenhouse gases by 100 per cent relative to 1990 levels by the year 2050.
  • More recently, US president Joe Biden 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”, the European Commission has asked all of its 27 member countries to cut emissions by 55 per cent below 1990 levels by 2030.
  • 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.

 What is Net-Zero goal?

  • Net-zero, which is also referred to as carbon-neutrality, does not mean that a country would bring down its emissions to zero.
  • Rather, net-zero is a state in which a country’s emissions are compensated by absorption and removalof greenhouse gases from the atmosphere.
  • Absorption of the emissions can be increased by creating more carbon sinkssuch as forests, while removal of gases from the atmosphere requires futuristic technologies such as carbon capture and storage.
  • This way, it is even possible for a country to havenegative emissions, if the absorption and removal exceed the actual emissions. A good example is Bhutan which is often described as carbon-negative because it absorbs more than it emits.
  • It is being argued that global carbon neutrality by 2050 is the only way to achieve the Paris Agreement target of keeping the planet’s temperature from rising beyond 2°C compared to pre-industrial times.

What are the concerns expressed in recent Oxfam report?

  • The report says that if the challenge of change is tackled only by way of planting more trees, then about 1.6 billion hectares of new forests would be required to remove the world’s excess carbon emissions by the year 2050.
  • Further, 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 prises 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 Oxfam report emphasises that reducing emissions cannot be considered a substitute for cutting emissions and these should be counted separately.

Connecting the dots:

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