What is Carbon Neutrality, and how can we achieve it by 2050?

carbon-neutrality


The term Carbon Neutrality has been around for a while, but is now growing louder. As it should, given its crucial role to win the fight against climate change. It is well known that the rising temperatures are, in fact, causing plenty of negative effects worldwide and - as the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) suggests - it is vital to keep global warming within the threshold of 1.5ºC in order to avoid irreparable damage to the planet and its inhabitants.

But how can we do that? Let’s break it down together.

 

What you will find in this article

  • Carbon Neutrality: meaning and why it’s important
  • Carbon Neutrality VS Net Zero
  • What is the Carbon Budget: a definition
  • Why is the Carbon Budget important?
  • Can the Planet reach Carbon Neutrality by mid-century?
  • Prysmian Group’s efforts to reach Carbon Neutrality

Carbon Neutrality: meaning and why it’s important

As the IPCC defines it, carbon neutrality can be described as the state where the net anthropogenic CO2 emissions are balanced globally by anthropogenic CO2 removals over a specified period1.

In other words, to achieve carbon neutrality the CO2 emissions produced worldwide have to be balanced by an equal amount of carbon removal (practice which is commonly referred to as carbon offsetting), so that the net impact on the environment is equal to zero.

It is an ambitious goal, challenged by the latest global developments - such as Covid-19 pandemic and the war between Russia and Ukraine - which have surely decreased the speed of the process. Nonetheless, achieving carbon neutrality within 2050 is crucial to comply with what was established by the Paris Agreement, adopted by 196 parties at the UN Climate Change Conference (COP21) in Paris and in force since 2016.

 

 
1. https://www.ipcc.ch/sr15/chapter/glossary/

Carbon neutrality VS Net Zero

Together with Carbon Neutrality, another term has been growing louder and louder in the recent years: Net Zero. While the two terms are often used interchangeably, they have slightly different meanings.

Carbon Neutrality

Carbon neutrality refers to the state where the net CO2 emissions produced by an entity - such as an organization or an individual - are equal to zero. In other words, the emissions produced are balanced by an equal amount of CO2 removal from the atmosphere, so that the result is zero.

Net Zero

Net Zero has the same goal, which is to avoid the introduction of harmful emissions into the atmosphere, but on a bigger scale: net zero requires actual abatement (through efficiency, electrification or by using renewable energy) of all greenhouse gases released (and not only carbon dioxide), and not just compensation and balancing. Net zero is therefore a more ambitious goal than carbon neutrality, as it requires additional measures to remove carbon from the atmosphere. The Science Based Target initiative (SBTi) has standardized the meaning of Net-Zero for companies, requiring them to reduce their GHG emissions by 90% among all the supply chain, and remove the residual emissions through dedicated technologies (e.g. direct air capture).

What is the Carbon Budget: a definition

While waiting for energy transition and carbon neutrality to actually happen, climate analysts have identified a threshold value which indicates the maximum amount of cumulative net global anthropogenic CO2 emissions that can still be released in the atmosphere in order to keep the warming below a specific temperature level. This value is called carbon budget, which is commonly referred to as the total carbon budget when expressed starting from the pre-industrial time, and as the remaining carbon budget when expressed from a recent date. While the former is responsible for the warming to date, the latter indicates how much CO2 can still be emitted to keep the temperature below the 1.5°C, as required by the Paris Agreement2.

 

2. IPCC, Climate Change 2021 - Summary for policymakers, 2021.

Why is the Carbon Budget important?

The carbon budget is a critical tool not only because it emphasizes the need for countries to work together to limit global emissions - since exceeding the carbon budget would lead to severe consequences for the whole planet - but also for understanding the finite nature of the Earth’s capacity to absorb greenhouse emissions through the so-called carbon sinks.

According to data, in fact, natural sinks (such as soil, forests and oceans) can absorb between 9.5 and 11 Gt of CO2 per year3, a value which is far below the annual global CO2 emissions reached in the recent years (e.g. 36.0 Gt in 20204), while, as regards artificial sinks, none has so far been able to remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere on the necessary scale to fight global warming, which is the reason why it is crucial to cut carbon emissions to finally achieve carbon neutrality.

 

 

3. European Parliament, International Climate Negotiations, 2018
4. Ibidem.

Can the Planet reach Carbon Neutrality by mid-century?

Carbon neutrality, as well as net zero, appears to be one of the world’s most urgent missions, maybe one of the hardest human-kind has ever faced. But let’s be honest: can we really reach the goal by 2050?

One of the latest IPCC reports claims we can, but to do so some serious climate action needs to be taken today: without immediate and profound emissions reduction across all the sectors worldwide, the goal of carbon neutrality is beyond reach5.

 
 
5. AR6 Climate Change 2022: Mitigation of Climate Change

“We are at a crossroads. The decisions we make now can secure a liveable future. We have the tools and know-how required to limit warming” - said IPCC Chair Hoesung Lee.

 

While there appears to be some concrete evidence that Governments and Institutions are taking action to fight climate change - as an increasing range of policies and laws are being implemented - the gap existing between what’s being said and what’s actually being done is still there, and growing. Not to mention what still has to be done: commitments made so far fall in fact far short of what is required.

Having an actual chance of winning the fight against global warming and reaching carbon neutrality by mid-century requires nothing less than a deep and groundbreaking transformation of our habits, and further delay in acting to reverse the dangerous trends human-kind created will put achieving carbon neutrality by 2050 way out of reach.

Prysmian Group’s efforts to reach Carbon Neutrality

World leader in the energy and telecom cable systems industry, Prysmian Group is committed to play a crucial role in the fight against climate change in order to reach the net zero target. Cable systems are in fact a crucial part of all the main projects supporting the energy transition, giving Prysmian a unique positioning to be among the key enablers of a decarbonized future energy system.

As stated by the Sustainability Report, the Group’s climate change commitment, already formalized in 2021 with the definition of the “Climate Change Ambition” and the membership of the ScienceBased Target initiative (SBTi) - which defines the requirements for an effective Net Zero strategy - continued in 2022, with a targeted 90% reduction in emissions by 2035 for the Group’s perimeter and by 2050 throughout the entire Prysmian value chain.

“To further increase the credibility of our ambition of being a global leading player in the challenges of decarbonisation, we are increasingly committed to promoting sustainable growth for the environment and individuals. The significant progress achieved in 2022 across nearly all ESG areas confirms we are on the right path.”

Valerio Battista

Chief Executive Officer Prysmian Group