The readiness with which a growing number of countries, sub-national entities and individual organizations have made net-zero pledges speaks to the unifying and galvanizing power of the net-zero narrative. These pledges should be encouraged. However, there is concern that these often-voluntary commitments allow too much discretion in the design of net-zero pathways and may therefore not be consistent with global net zero, or with ambitious climate action more generally.
Governance, accountability and reporting mechanisms are currently inadequate. Long-term ambition is often not backed up by sufficient near-term action. Many entities have not yet set out detailed plans to achieve their pledges and are opaque about the role of carbon offsets in place of cutting their own emissions. The environmental and social integrity of some of these offsets is questionable. As a result, some advocates have accused these pledges of amounting to little more than ‘greenwashing’.
These concerns do not negate the scientific logic of global net zero. However, they demonstrate the need for clear guardrails to ensure the robustness of net zero as a framework for climate action. The authors set out seven attributes that for a successful net-zero framework:
- Front-loaded emission reductions
- A comprehensive approach to emission reductions
- Cautious use of carbon dioxide removal and storage
- Effective regulation of carbon offsets
- An equitable transition to net zero
- Alignment with broader socio-ecological objectives
- Pursuit of new economic opportunities
The paper was co-authored by Professor Sam Fankhauser, Dr Steve Smith, Professor Myles Allen, Kaya Axelsson, Dr Thomas Hale, Professor Cameron Hepburn, Professor J. Michael Kendall, Dr Radhika Khosla, Dr Javier Lezaun, Eli Mitchell-Larson, Professor Michael Obersteiner, Professor Lavanya Rajamani, Professor Rosalind Rickaby, Professor Nathalie Seddon and Professor Thom Wetzer.