Navigating the nuances of net-zero targets

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This report analyses the momentum of targets for net-zero emissions across companies, cities and regions worldwide. We seek to unravel the ambiguity of net-zero targets to better enable the identification of truly ambitious actors and enhance support towards them. We offer recommendations for increasing target transparency with the aim of achieving greater accountability and ambition.

Main Findings:

1. Net zero momentum is accelerating: The number of net-zero pledges from cities regions and companies has roughly doubled in less than a year since late 2019

As of October 2020, actors with net-zero targets (either economy- or companywide, or for a specific sector) cover at least 826 cities, 103 regions, and 1,565 companies across all continents. In total, they represent over 880 million residents, 24.9 million employees, and 10 gigatonnes of greenhouse gas emissions.

Map of cities and regions pursuing net-zero emissions.


2. Net zero can be ambiguous: nuances in target implementation approaches can determine the real ambition and impact of actors’ net-zero pledges

At the highest level, approaches for implementing subnational and corporate net-zero targets can be broadly categorised according to whether they target the direct reduction of emissions, claim neutralisation of emissions through offsetting, or support carbon dioxide removal. Among measures for the direct reduction of emissions, we note a particularly broad range of approaches for claiming the neutralisation of electricity-related emissions and for supporting the reduction of supply chain and out of boundary emissions.

Nuances in the specific details of those implementation approaches determine whether net-zero targets really contribute to deep decarbonisation, or produce any impact at all. These significant nuances in target implementation approaches have implications for the additionality of impact, the integrity of a claimed outcome, and the extent to which the approaches actively support or hinder problem-solving efforts for the most difficult challenges of deep decarbonisation.

Overview of the key nuances of net-zero target implementation approaches.


3. Transparency can enable accountability and positive pressure to translate net-zero targets to ambitious action

Transparency on the nuances of net-zero targets not only unravels the ambiguity to understand ambition, but also should be recognised as a tool in itself to increase ambition by facilitating accountability and constructive dialogues on challenges faced. Ambitious actors, critical observers, and concerned citizens and consumers should recognise that constructive transparency can be far more ambitious and solution-oriented than net-zero claims that are based on opaque accounting approaches. Guidance and encouragement for actors to set targets should include a greater consideration of these nuances, to better enable the identification of truly ambitious actors and enhance support towards them.

Ten basic criteria for net-zero target transpareny.

Contacts for further information:
Thomas Day, Silke Mooldijk, Takeshi Kuramochi