Business unusual: the shift to “carbon neutral”

06 November 2018 | Mitigation

In October climate scientists issued a dramatic warning that we need to change the way we live if we are to avoid the serious consequences of allowing global warming to go 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels. They urged changes "in all aspects of society" to limit climate warming.

The warnings chime with findings in UN Environment’s 2017 Emissions Gap Report which warned that we are headed towards a 3°C rise in global temperatures unless countries change the way they do business.

Over the past few years we have seen significant changes in the building, agriculture, transport, energy, industry and forest sectors towards carbon neutrality and sustainability. Carbon neutrality, or having a net zero carbon footprint, refers to achieving net zero carbon emissions by balancing a measured amount of carbon released with an equivalent amount sequestered or offset.

Under the Paris Agreement, all country-signatories should strive to formulate and communicate their long-term low greenhouse gas emission development strategies by 2020.  Only 10 countries have done so to date. However, recent data gathered by UN Environment suggests the pace of change is quickening: many countries that have not officially submitted their long-term strategies still announced zero-carbon targets for 2050.

More than 20 cities and over 100 companies have committed to becoming carbon neutral, and an alliance of 60-plus state/regional, city governments and multinational businesses are now committed to 100 per cent zero emission targets through the zero emission vehicle (ZEV) challenge.


In the United States of America, the states of Hawaii and California have committed to becoming carbon neutral by 2045.

In 2017, the Swedish parliament committed the country to becoming a net-zero carbon emitter by 2045.

A draft Netherlands Climate Law sets a 49 per cent greenhouse gas emission reduction target by 2030 compared to 1990 levels, and a 95 per cent cut by 2050, with a carbon-neutral electricity system. The proposal is backed by seven political parties, who between them hold 113 of the 150 seats in the Dutch parliament.

The new climate change minister and Green Party co-leader in New Zealand, James Shaw, has announced the government's intention to pass a Zero Carbon Act, whereby the economy would achieve carbon neutrality by 2050.

In 2016, the Republic of the Marshall Islands committed to achieving net zero greenhouse gas emissions and 100 per cent renewable energy by 2050.

Argentina, Canada, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, Denmark, Ethiopia, Fiji, Finland, France, Germany, Maldives, Marshall Islands, Mexico, Monaco, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Rwanda, Saint Lucia, Spain and Sweden and the United Kingdom have committed, by 2020, to toughen their climate goals and limit greenhouse gas emissions more than already planned under the Paris Agreement.


In October 2017, New York City released a plan setting out how the entire city aims to be carbon neutral by 2050. This could include large-scale renewables, carbon sequestration, and carbon offsets to account for all residual pollution.

The governments of 19 cities – Copenhagen, Johannesburg, London, Los Angeles, Montreal, New York City, Newburyport, Paris, Portland, San Francisco, San Jose, Santa Monica, Stockholm, Sydney, Tokyo, Toronto, Tshwane, Vancouver and Washington DC – have committed to significantly cut greenhouse gases by ensuring that new buildings operate at net zero carbon by 2030, and all buildings in these cities, old or new, will meet net zero carbon standards by 2050.

The term “net zero carbon” in relation to buildings means that the total amount of energy used by a building on an annual basis is roughly equal to the amount of renewable energy created on the site.

In Italy, Milan will have a zero-emission historical city centre by 2030; all fossil fuel vehicles will be banned from the city centre by 2029.


“Reducing our emissions is both a corporate responsibility and a way to mitigate long-term risk," says UN Environment climate change expert Niklas Hagelberg.

RE100 is a collaborative, global initiative uniting more than 100 influential businesses committed to 100 per cent renewable electricity and working to massively increase demand for, and delivery of, renewable energy. They have made a commitment to go “100 per cent renewable” by 2050. So far 152 RE100 companies have made this commitment.



Source: UN