Net zero: the story of the target that will shape our future

(Climate Change News, 16 Sep 2019) In 2013, a group of women sat around the kitchen table at Glen House, a country estate in the Scottish borders.

Farhana Yamin, one of the lead organisers, describes them as “lionesses”: a pride of around 30 lawyers, diplomats, financiers and activists on a mission to halt dangerous climate change.

Not least among them was Christiana Figueres, head of the UN climate body, responsible for getting a just, ambitious and effective international pact at the upcoming 2015 Paris summit. Nobody wanted to see a repeat of Copenhagen 2009, where talks collapsed.

This idyllic retreat at the home of green finance pioneer Tessa Tennant, who died in 2018, was a testing ground for many elements of the Paris Agreement. These included a concept that is fast becoming the guiding principle of climate action: net zero emissions.

“There had been discussions about what should be the long-term goal of the UN regime for a long time, going right back to the early days. We had umpteen takes,” says Yamin, a veteran of the process.

Net zero was the idea that emerged and is now being translated into national laws, urban strategies and business plans among would-be climate leaders.

UN chief Antonio Guterres has adopted carbon neutrality by 2050 as the benchmark for ambition ahead of his climate summit in New York on 23 September. Even as the political coalition behind Paris fragments, with backsliding from the US, Australia, Brazil, activists are calling for zero with fresh urgency and analysts mapping out how to make it happen.

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Climate Change News, 16 Sep 2019: Net zero: the story of the target that will shape our future