Principles for making a net zero commitment

Principles for making a net zero commitment

Net Zero: Joining the race, investing, and offsetting

This page provides principles for joining the race to net zero, investing in alignment with net-zero goals, approaching carbon offsetting in alignment with net zero commitments, and 7 attributes for getting net zero right. Click on the buttons to find out more about each set of research-based principles, or scroll down to browse through all four.

How to Commit to Net Zero:

Criteria for Joining the Race to Zero

Net zero commitments are now expected standards for companies, local, regional and national governments. The following are clear steps to follow in setting net zero commitments, developed by the University of Oxford through an extensive series of stakeholder workshops. These are the same as the minimum criteria for the UNFCCC-backed Race to Zero Campaign ahead of the Conference of Parties in Glasgow this year, a pivotal moment in global climate negotiations. By taking these steps your institution can join the global effort to meet the Paris Agreement goals.

The steps below come from the official criteria for joining the Race to Zero campaign. The criteria were created by the networks and initiatives that form the Race to Zero’s international climate action community. Download a mapping of the criteria, which provides questions to ask your institution about its targets.

 — Pledge

Pledge at the head-of-organization level to reach net zero GHGs as soon as possible, and by mid-century at the latest, in line with global efforts to limit warming to 1.5C. Recognise that this requires phasing out all unabated fossil fuels as part of the transition.

Set an interim target to achieve in the next decade, which reflects maximum effort toward or beyond a fair share of the 50% global reduction in CO2 by 2030.

Targets must cover all GHGs, including Scopes 1, 2, and 3 for businesses and other organisations, all territorial emissions for cities and regions, all portfolio/financed/facilitated/insured emissions for financial entities, and all land-based emissions. 

2 — Plan

Within 12 months of joining, publicly disclose a Transition Plan, City/Region Plan, or equivalent which outlines how all other Race to Zero criteria will be met

Include what actions will be taken within the next 12 months, within 2-3 years, and by 2030.

3 — Proceed

Take immediate action through all available pathways toward achieving net zero, consistent with delivering interim targets specified.

Where relevant, contribute to sectoral breakthroughs.

4 — Publish

Report publicly both progress against interim and long-term targets, as well as the actions being taken, at least annually

Report in a standardised, open format, and via platforms that feed into the UNFCCC Global Climate Action Portal.


Within 12 months of joining, align external policy and engagement, including membership in associations, to the goal of halving emissions by 2030 and reaching global net zero by 2050.



The Oxford Martin Principles for Net Zero-Aligned Investing provide a framework for engagement between climate-conscious investors and companies across the global economy. Building upon the science of long-term climate change, they focus on how investments contribute to the global stock of cumulative carbon dioxide emissions, complementing other measures, such as carbon footprinting, that focus on emission flows. 

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Net global emissions of carbon dioxide must reach zero to stabilise global temperatures, whether at +2°C, +3°C or any other level. All industries must eventually reach net-zero emissions, even if some industries do so before others.

Companies should commit to a date (or a temperature increase, such as 1.5°C or “well below 2°C”) before which the net CO2 emissions associated with their activities (including both supply chains and products sold) will be zero.

Companies should develop and publish a net zero transition plan. If the company envisages a substantial role for offsetting of residual emissions, what is the offset mechanism, is it reliable and available at sufficient scale for a global transition, and who is going to pay for it? The company’s public statements and support for other organisations and lobby groups should be consistent with advancing public, political and corporate action towards net zero emissions.


Company executives should have business plans that ensure the profitability of their business, and limit supply chain risks, once emissions reach net zero.

For companies that provide a carbon-intensive service or fuel for which there is no currently available substitute, a clear plan is required for contributing to the development and deployment of substitutes or remediation measures.

For products and services for which zero-carbon substitutes already exist, a company should have a clear strategy and timescale for adopting them. If carbon dioxide removal plays a substantial role in the company’s plans, how will it be achieved, paid for, monitored and maintained in perpetuity?


Mid-term targets (for example, for 2030) that are directly relevant to achieving a net-zero business model, such as the rate and long-term trajectory of reductions in CO2 emissions, are vital to assess compatibility with the Paris Agreement. If a company has a plan for a progressive transition to net-zero emissions, investors should be able to monitor their progress to ensure it is consistent with minimising risks to future climate and risks to future asset owners, consumers and taxpayers.

Global temperatures are projected by the IPCC’s Fifth Assessment Report to reach around 1.2°C above preindustrial by about 2030. By this level of warming, emissions scenarios approximately consistent with the 1.5°C goal will have seen global CO2 emissions reduce by at least 40% relative to business as usual, or at least 20% below business as usual for the 2°C goal. These rates of emissions reductions can act as useful benchmarks against which company progress can be measured.

how to commit to net zero:


Carbon offsetting is a widespread tool in efforts to achieve net zero emissions. But current approaches to offsetting are unlikely to deliver the types of offsets needed to achieve global climate goals. Net zero pledges from many companies, such as those recently from BP and Google, and the recent 2060 “carbon neutrality” pledge from China are likely to use offsets. And many industry leaders are working to develop standards  such as the Carbon Offsetting and Reduction Scheme for International Aviation, as well as the Taskforce on Scaling Voluntary Carbon Markets. But what types of offsets are aligned with pathways to net zero and under what conditions should they be used? The Oxford Principles for Net Zero Aligned Carbon Offsettingprovide guidelines to help ensure offsetting actually helps to achieve a net zero society. 

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1 — Cut emissions, use high quality offsets, and regularly revise offsetting strategy as best practice evolves

A host of carbon offsetting best practices have been developed over the past decades. Adherents to these principles must first observe these best practices, which can be grouped as: 

Prioritise reducing your own emissions. Minimise the need for offsets in the first place.

Ensure environmental integrity. Use offsets that are verifiable and correctly accounted for and have a low risk of non-additionality, reversal, and creating negative unintended consequences for people and the environment.

Maintain transparency. Disclose current emissions, accounting practices, targets to reach net zero, and the type of offsets you employ.

2 — Shift offsetting towards carbon removal 

Most offsets available today are emission reductions, which are necessary but not sufficient to achieve net zero in the long run. Carbon removals scrub carbon directly from the atmosphere.

Users of offsets should increase the portion of their offsets that come from carbon removals, rather than from emission reductions, ultimately reaching 100% carbon removals by midcentury to ensure compatibility with the Paris Agreement goals. Creating demand for carbon removal offsets today will send the necessary market signal to increase supply.

3 — Shift offsetting towards long-lived storage

The transition from emission reductions to carbon removals as outlined in Principle 2 above is critical for achieving net zero, but doesn’t address the question of how carbon is stored. Short-lived storage involves methods that have a higher risk of being reversed over decades. Long-lived storage refers to methods of storing carbon that have a low risk of reversal over centuries to millennia, such as storing CO2 in geological reservoirs or mineralising carbon into stable forms.

Short-lived storage offsets help buy time to reduce emissions and invest in long-lived The Oxford Principles for Net Zero Aligned Carbon Offsetting storage, but they are not a long-term solution for achieving balance between sinks and sources. It is therefore critical that investment in scaling and improving the technologies that enable long-lived storage begins now. Creating demand for long-lived offsets today sends a signal to the market to grow the supply of such offsets.

4 — Support the development of net zero aligned offsetting

The market for the high-quality offsets needed to meet Principles 2 and 3 is immature and in need of early-adopters to support its evolution. Users of these principles can develop the market for net zero aligned offsetting by:

Using long-term agreements. Give the certainty required by offset project developers to create net zero offsets.

Forming sector-specific alliances. Work collaboratively with peers to develop the market for net zero aligned offsets.

Supporting the restoration and protection of a wide range of natural and semi-natural ecosystems in their own right. Not only will this secure the ecosystem goods and services on which humans depend, including resilience to the impacts of climate change, but will contribute to carbon storage over the long term. While carbon offsetting can help to fund some of this work, such efforts should fundamentally be supported for the benefits and values they create, not purely for the purpose of carbon offsetting.

Adopting and publicising these Principles, and incorporating them into regulation and standard-setting for approaches to offsetting and net zero.



The concept of net-zero carbon emissions has emerged from physical climate science. However, it is operationalized through social, political and economic systems. We identify seven attributes of net zero, which are important to make it a successful framework for climate action, using our recent paper in Nature Climate Change.

The seven attributes highlight the urgency of emission reductions, which need to be front-loaded, and of coverage of all emission sources, including currently difficult ones. The attributes emphasize the need for social and environmental integrity. This means carbon dioxide removals should be used cautiously and the use of carbon offsets should be regulated effectively. Net zero must be aligned with broader sustainable development objectives, which implies an equitable net-zero transition, socio-ecological sustainability and the pursuit of broad economic opportunities.

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The 7 attributes

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

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