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Currently, we are experiencing the devastating effects of climate change on a global scale. We now have more frequent extreme weather events such as drought, heatwaves, floods, landslides, and heavy rains. Other impacts of climate change include ocean acidification, rising sea levels, and biodiversity loss.
The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) believes that by limiting the Earth’s warming to 1.5 degrees, we can escape the worst effects of climate change. We can only limit the Earth’s warming if we achieve carbon neutrality by 2050.
So what is carbon neutrality?
You may have heard the word ‘carbon neutrality’ many times but never understood the true meaning of it. Carbon neutrality means reaching a balance between the carbon dioxide emitted and absorbed. Being carbon neutral means that the amount of carbon dioxide you emit must equal the carbon dioxide absorbed from the atmosphere by carbon sinks like forests. The amount of carbon dioxide you emit doesn’t come just from respiration. It is the sum of all your lifestyle activities and choices that put carbon dioxide into the atmosphere.
Carbon sequestration is the removal of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere using man-made technology and its storage in deep underground chambers. To reach a state of net-zero emissions, we need to counterbalance global greenhouse gas emissions by carbon sequestration.
A carbon sink is a system that absorbs more carbon dioxide than it emits. The common natural carbon sinks are soils, forests, and oceans. According to estimates, natural carbon sinks are responsible for removing 9.5 to 11 Gt of CO2 per year. However, the sad thing to note is that our annual carbon emissions reached 38 Gt in 2019. This means that we are causing the emissions of more carbon dioxide than the sinks can absorb.
The carbon stored in natural sinks gets released back into the atmosphere through logging, forest fires, and changes in land use. This is why, in order to reach carbon neutrality, it is essential to reduce our carbon emissions.
Carbon offsetting is integral to achieving carbon neutrality. Carbon offsetting refers either to a reduction in greenhouse gas emissions or an increase in carbon storage sites that compensate for emissions that occur elsewhere. Various greenhouse gases mix globally in the atmosphere. Therefore, it doesn’t really matter where a reduction in emissions occurs as long as they are happening. Investing in renewable energy or other low carbon technologies are some ways of offsetting carbon footprints. Carbon offset projects include renewable energy development, capturing and destroying greenhouse gases like methane, and preventing deforestation or promoting afforestation. Companies and individuals invest in these carbon offset projects to compensate for their carbon emissions.
In most cases, carbon offset projects produce environmental and economic benefits beyond just reducing greenhouse gas emissions. These benefits include an improvement in air and water quality, employment for local communities, biodiversity and wildlife habitat conservation, and access to health and education services. Therefore, carbon offset projects combine climate change reduction efforts with contributions to sections of society.
Organisations usually employ specific steps to ensure that they are on track to achieving carbon neutrality. The steps include:
Countries, organisations, and individuals need to commit to fighting climate change by becoming carbon neutral. Their commitment is critical to attaining carbon neutrality. However, current commitments from governments are far from sufficient. Governments and organisations need to set up strict carbon-neutral goals and determine the appropriate means of achieving these goals.
This step involves counting the emissions that a company or an individual needs to reduce and analysing how to reduce them. This is essential to achieving carbon neutrality since it identifies where reduction in emissions needs to occur. You can analyse your carbon reduction techniques by asking yourself the following questions:
Which operations, activities, and actions do I need to target?
Which sources do I need to reduce emissions from?
Which gases do I need to include in my reduction methods?
Which and how many emissions am I directly responsible for?
Even tools like carbon calculators can help you in compiling your carbon inventory.
After you identify the processes you or your company needs to employ to reduce emissions, you then need to act on them. Cost-saving is one of the biggest arguments for reducing greenhouse gas emissions. Examples of actions that can reduce emissions are:
a. Cutting down on your emissions from transport by walking, cycling, using public transport, taking fewer flights, and using low-energy vehicles.
b. Obtaining electricity and energy from renewable sources like solar and wind energy.
c. Procuring energy from electrical sources rather than combustion sources. However, make sure that your electrical source of energy does not emit greenhouse gases by burning fossil fuels. Electric vehicles are one example.
Offsetting means neutralising your emission of greenhouse gases by funding projects that draw down emissions or reduce emissions at another place. However, you first need to reduce as much emissions as you can. If you find that direct reduction of your emissions is still not enough for you to achieve carbon neutrality, invest in carbon offset projects. Although carbon offsetting seems like good action, some people interpret it as ‘greenwashing.’ They describe carbon offsets as actions sold to a carbon-conscious public to absolve them of their carbon emission sins. Sadly, many companies today use their investment in carbon offset projects as publicity stunts. They do not take real actions to achieve carbon neutrality and net zero emissions.
The last steps include evaluating the results of your carbon reduction processes and actions. You can make a list of improvements that some actions might need. It is a good practice to document your results so that you can share with others the carbon reduction techniques that do and don’t work. Repeat your process with the improvements in mind and build on previous mistakes. This will improve your methods of carbon reduction and help you better achieve carbon neutrality.