The climate crisis can't be solved by carbon accounting tricks

(The Guardian, 3 Mar 2021) Disaster looms if big finance is allowed to game the carbon offsetting markets to achieve ‘net zero’ emissions.

An astonishing global shift is under way: 127 countries have now stated that by mid-century their overall emissions of carbon dioxide will be zero. That includes the EU, US, and UK by 2050 – and China by 2060. Companies are enthusiastically signing up to similar “net zero” goals. Finally the international community seems to have accepted the scientific fact that we need to stop adding greenhouse gases to the atmosphere to stabilise our climate. Dare we hope that the climate crisis can be brought under control?

Perhaps, but big problems remain. Long-term commitments have not resulted in sufficient near-term actions. The world is on track for emissions to be just 0.5% below 2010 levels by 2030, compared with the 45% needed on the road to net zero by 2050. The pivotal Glasgow Cop26 climate talks in November will need to tackle this. But a more insidious problem is emerging. Net zero increasingly involves highly questionable carbon accounting. As a result, the new politics swirling around net zero targets is rapidly becoming a confusing and dangerous mix of pragmatism, self-delusion and weapons-grade greenwash.

The science of net zero is simple: every sector of every country in the world needs to be, on average, zero emissions. We know how to do this for electricity, cars, buildings and even a lot of heavy industry. But in certain areas, including air travel and some agricultural emissions, there is no prospect of getting to zero emissions in the near future. For these residual emissions, greenhouse gasses will need to be sucked out of the atmosphere at the same rate as they are added, so that, on average, there are net zero emissions.

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The Guardian, 3 Mar 2021: The climate crisis can't be solved by carbon accounting tricks