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  • Climate change has a new poster boy

  • Companies from British Airways to Facebook...

  • ...and pop artists like Billie Eilish and Massive Attack...

  • ...have promised to make changes...

  • ...to bring their greenhouse-gas emissions closer to net zero

  • They're joining a club of more than 50 countries around the world

  • This race to zero is a vital step towards managing climate change

  • But what does net zero really mean...

  • ...and is achieving it even possible?

  • Net zero has gone viral

  • But like all simple slogans, the reality of achieving it...

  • ...is far more complicated

  • Humans burning fossil fuels...

  • ...has resulted in more carbon dioxide in the atmosphere...

  • ...which is warming the planet

  • To stop the warming...

  • ...the level of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere has to stop rising

  • The obvious way to do that is to stop emitting them

  • But that's easier said than done

  • For some industries such as aviation and manufacturing...

  • ...eliminating emissions is really hard

  • In the years leading up to the Copenhagen climate conference in 2009...

  • ...scientists realised something...

  • ...it wasn't possible to cut emissions fast and thoroughly enough...

  • ...to meet the temperature targets that policymakers wanted

  • What was needed...

  • ...was to actively remove greenhouse gases from the atmosphere too

  • People began to talk about a world in which greenhouse-gas emissions...

  • ...and greenhouse-gas removals balanced each other out

  • So that the overall effect was net zero

  • The countries that signed up to the Paris Agreement...

  • ...pledged to turn this idea into reality, by agreeing to balance their...

  • ...emissions and removal of greenhouse gases...

  • ...in the second half of the century

  • To achieve net-zero emissions, we need to do two things...

  • ...one, which is more obvious...

  • ..is to cut our output of greenhouse-gas emissions...

  • ...from things like burning fossil fuels

  • But the other is actually to take emissions out of the air

  • And that's the harder and sometimes more obscure aspect...

  • ...of getting to net zero

  • This is known as negative emissions

  • And the scale in which they might be required...

  • ...is one reason that net-zero targets will be hard to achieve

  • We'll need to go from a world economy that pumps out on the order...

  • ...of 40 billion tonnes of CO2 a year to one that sucks down...

  • ...that is, removes billions of tonnes per year in the future...

  • ...to get to that net-zero future

  • There's different ways to do this, forests do this naturally...

  • ...through biological processes or sinks

  • But what we're really looking at now...

  • ...to achieve ambitious climate targets are man-made approaches

  • Some methods for removing greenhouse gases from the atmosphere...

  • ...are already being used at scale, such as the planting of new forests

  • And improving soil so it can store more carbon

  • But there are new technologies at a much earlier stage of development

  • Among them ways of capturing carbon dioxide...

  • ...and storing it underground

  • Carbon dioxide could be pulled directly from the air by machines...

  • ...or by growing plants...

  • ...burning them to generate electricity...

  • ...and then capturing the carbon dioxide as they burn

  • There's a flurry of innovation in negative-emissions technologies

  • A range of ambitious to wacky, and none of them are proven at scale

  • And that's what makes them so problematic

  • The world is counting on innovations...

  • ...that have not yet been demonstrated at scale...

  • ...to achieve targets that we're setting for ourselves

  • And that's a big question-mark

  • We're hopeful, but it is still a risky bet

  • How much greenhouse gas needs to be removed...

  • ...from the atmosphere...

  • ...will depend on how much emissions can be cut

  • The conundrum that is, we need both...

  • ...massive reductions in emissions...

  • ...as well as a dramatic scale up and proving...

  • ...of the technologies for negative emissions

  • There is a tension between the two...

  • ...and it's easy for governments and industries...

  • ...to kick the can down the road saying, well...

  • ...let's go a little slower on the cutting of emissions now...

  • ...which will be better for the economy or for our profits...

  • ...because we can always make massive negative-emissions reductions...

  • ...later when innovation makes those technologies...

  • ...cheaper and better

  • The dirty little secret in that argument...

  • ...is that it may come too late and it may well give permission...

  • ...for polluters to get away with polluting much more than need be...

  • ...rather than innovating ways to reduce emissions now

  • There's also the question of who takes responsibility...

  • ...for each molecule of greenhouse gas

  • One of the most difficult challenges...

  • ...is that lots of countries and companies and individuals...

  • ...don't want to own up to their carbon footprint

  • For example, carbon-intensive countries like...

  • ...India, China or other emerging markets...

  • ...that are producing enormous amounts of emissions today

  • They point out that the goods they produce, for example...

  • ...may be consumed by Americans or Europeans

  • So they should do the negative emissions or they may say...

  • ...rich countries got rich putting carbon dioxide into the air

  • Now it's our turn to lift our people out of poverty...

  • ...so you pay for the negative emissions

  • As yet, there is no universal policy for accounting for...

  • ...and attributing emissions

  • Today, governmental net-zero pledges...

  • ...cover over two-thirds of the global economy

  • America and the EU are working towards a target...

  • ...of net zero by 2050

  • And President Xi of China, the world's largest emitter...

  • ...has pledged to achieve carbon neutrality before 2060

  • Some people see ambitious climate targets...

  • ...and say, fantastic, the problem's getting solved

  • Here's the problem

  • A target is no guarantee that we're going to get to the goal

  • It's important to have targets

  • It binds society together

  • It gives you a direction in which policy is going to go

  • It gives investors and markets some idea and some degree...

  • ...of certainty as to what investments to make

  • However, we often fall short of targets also we should remember

  • Most government policies focus on cutting emissions...

  • ...rather than how to tackle negative emissions

  • Embracing, enacting and scaling a negative-emissions plan...

  • ...to get to net zero is a Herculean task

  • This is something far bigger than, say...

  • ...the moonshot or other initiatives that it's often compared to...

  • ...because this involves really every economy on Earth...

  • ...every government, ultimately, every citizen...

  • ...all of us have to be involved and change the way we live

  • And it's not just a technological revolution

  • We need a revolution in our mindsets

  • I'm Vijay Vaitheeswaran...

  • The Economist's global energy and climate innovation editor

  • To keep up to date with all our climate-change coverage...

  • ...please click on the link

  • Thanks for watching and don't forget to subscribe

Climate change has a new poster boy

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B1 US greenhouse carbon greenhouse gas negative climate carbon dioxide

What is net zero? | The Economist

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    moge0072008 posted on 2021/10/04
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