Net Zero is NOT Zero

How climate targets are dangerously green-washing business-as-usual

You may have noticed that Net Zero climate targets are all the rage these days, with governments and corporations from the UK and Canada to Shell, Microsoft and many others all announcing targets to bring emissions to Net Zero by 2050.

It’s tempting to feel a sense of relief. The more Net Zero targets are announced, the closer we are to averting runaway climate catastrophe, right?


“Net zero emissions” sounds a lot like “zero emissions”, but can actually mean something very different.

The problem is not only that “Net Zero by 2050” is too little, too late, allowing continued pollution for another 30 years.

The biggest danger comes from the fact that the “net” in “net zero” is a fig leaf that can let governments and corporations carry on polluting as before, while hoping that at some point in the future technologies or tree plantations will “offset” these emissions by sucking the equivalent amount of carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere.

These oversized hopes for carbon-removing solutions are not just wildly unrealistic - they are extremely dangerous too.

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Given that Carbon Capture and Storage (CCS) technology may never be viable at scale, climate plans that rely on technologies that don’t exist yet are fantastical and irresponsible.

And when added together, the carbon offset components of the hundreds of Net Zero targets announced so far would require hundreds of millions of hectares of new tree plantations – spare land that the planet doesn’t have. These are likely to drive massive land grabs in the global South, displacing farmers, food systems, forests and indigenous peoples in the process, and causing a brutal wave of climate colonialism.

Given that we don’t have any extra empty continents to spare for tree plantations, offset-heavy net zero climate targets are also setting themselves up for failure – while hiding the fact that they put the planet on track for runaway climate breakdown.

Instead of accepting Net Zero at face value, we need to scrutinise these targets. Open up the attractive eco-packaging and take a look at what’s inside.

If we are to have a chance of avoiding runaway climate breakdown, climate targets have to lead to real and immediate action that actually stops pollution. This means deep systemic and structural changes, including in our energy, agricultural, industrial and economic systems.

Meaningful climate targets must bring emissions down to REAL zero. Climate action mustn’t get caught in the net.