Capturing CO2 and turning it into something profitable is not a totally new concept in the world. Innovative startups have been trying to create materials out of CO2 prior to the Covid-19 world pandemic; however there hasn’t been a better momentum than now to scale up these efforts to a global level.
Most solutions to fight climate change can be found in placing cutting edge technology solutions within reach of every individual such as robotics and AI. These innovations are prompting some truly spectacular innovations in every industry. Access to these capabilities, together with the worldwide interest in reversing climate change, creates the perfect environment within which to develop speedy and on-point solutions to our atmospheric CO2 problem.
The most popular sustainability term nowadays is “net zero emissions or net zero carbon”, which has been widely used by media and practitioners alike since the Paris Agreement in 2015 where many governments have formalised their commitment to achieve net zero emissions by 2050. Sustainability terms such as “net zero emissions” not being used in the right context has led to further confusion to those already not familiar with all the nuanced variations and concepts of these sustainability jargon.
Thus, before pursuing on topic, let us clarify these terms. Net zero emissions refers to the balance made out of greenhouse gas emissions(GHG) that is emitted and greenhouse gas emissions(GHG) taken out of our atmosphere to offset the GHG produced; the net zero carbon means that that no carbon was produced from the get-go therefore no carbon needs to be counterbalanced hence the difference with net zero GHG emissions where all greenhouse gas emissions are declined to zero, as opposed to just carbon dioxide. The net zero concept can be applied for organizations, institutions as well as countries as a whole.
Carbon negative and climate positive are similar terms, this occurs when more CO2 is removed from the atmosphere than was emitted to begin with, meaning there is a negative amount of carbon emissions which positively impacts the environment. In order to understand why carbon negative is the way forward and why its impact is positive for the climate, we first need to understand what our carbon footprint is exactly and the answer differs per organization, institution and country.
So, Before going into carbon negative or positive as it is commonly named, we need to understand how emissions are categorized into different scopes by the Greenhouse Gas Protocol: Scope 1: All direct emissions from the activities of an organization or those under its control Scope 2: Indirect emissions from electricity purchased and used by an organization Scope 3: All other indirect emissions from activities of an organization, excluding electricity
As becoming carbon neutral is the new trend for proactive organizations, going climate positive becomes the next logical step which means that all 3 scopes are not only considered but are made as a goal to be erased totally. The result for a company would come from both reducing its emissions in line with its 1.5˚C Science Based Target that aligns with the 2050 net-zero goal and investing in nature-based solutions and carbon technologies to remove and offset more carbon than it emits each year.
In order to reach “climate positive”, there needs to be a consistent sustainable (climate) strategy; this means that organizations should be aware that net zero strategies do not only consist of carbon offsetting but that it requires essential preparatory steps, the first crucial one being: to measure their environmental impacts and understand their emission sources as part of a comprehensive analysis. Once there is a clear understanding of the different emission sources that applies, especially the “trigger emissions points”, it can set up a comprehensive sustainability strategy.
The benefit of being carbon negative is the spillover benefits it creates for the environment as a whole as well as for peoples’ daily living, companies, or localities that may not have the means or initiative necessary to reduce their own carbon footprints. For instance when a carbon positive building produces more energy than it needs and feeding that energy back into the grid it not only has environmental benefits but a social impact as well. Another great example is that of Bhutan, the Buddhist kingdom on the Himalayas’ eastern edge. Bhutan is the first to become carbon negative (in 2017) due to several variables. The most important factor being its extensive forests covering more than 70% of its territory as well as its export of renewable energy. Indeed, Bhutan produces more hydraulic electricity than it needs, an estimated 17 million carbon offset credits in 2020 during the Covid-19 world pandemic. Bhutan itself emits approximately 1.1 million TCO2 per year while its forests sequester three times this figure. Another reason why Bhutan is cited as example is its consistent policy to avoid emissions and thus “business as usual” mentality which is now obsolete.
An organization that wants a leadership role in global climate action cannot continue with “business as usual”, a starting point of an ambitious climate strategy would be to achieve carbon neutrality and continue to "net zero emissions” during its journey. The main concept of substantially counteract climate change with a clear strategy targeting emissions triggers and concrete actions plans capable of supporting the transition necessary to comply with the climate objectives established starting from the Paris Agreement is universal the road to it will not be the same for everyone. Furthermore, Thinking about the 2050 UN target, it is clear that we necessarily need to remove more greenhouse gases from the atmosphere than we emit.
Hence, for the same reason that we’ve been trying to get carbon neutral. CO2 levels in the atmosphere have been shooting up ever since humans started burning fossil fuels. This CO2 has been trapping heat in the atmosphere instead of letting it escape into space. And unless we do something about it, rising temperatures will soon trigger disastrous environmental changes. So far, our best bet has been to try and reduce the amount of CO2 we produce. But here’s the thing – to be able to maintain global temperatures at no more than 2 degrees above pre-industrial levels, we’re going to have to do more. To be precise, we’re going to have to remove more CO2 than we produce. With most nations still struggling to become carbon neutral, becoming carbon negative may sound like a distant dream. But taking a closer look, it may in fact be our most realistic sustainability goal yet! Ideally, carbon neutrality will become the standard across the board however in the meantime climate positive initiatives can certainly help pick up the slack.
So as to achieve a carbon neutral state several steps can be taken such as reducing energy consumption while switching to renewable energy solutions. Limiting travels for organizations is also an important solution such as video-conference as is being done in the Covid-19 world pandemic, switch to remote working as much as possible, invest in smart mobility tech solutions for the daily working commuters. Recycling properly sorting waste accordingly and offsetting the carbon emitted as it is mainly human activities where carbon emissions come from. Some steps are already taken by governments within the E.U. member states such as the implementation of new regulations (commuters travel reimbursements, subventions for smart mobility use) and co2 taxes in the nearby future. An other solution which is worldly stimulated is the planting of trees, fast growing ones in order to offset our Carbon damages and fight climate change, in order to understand if this is the solution, let us first understand what trees do and what impact it really has and if there is a difference between trees. Trees have a significant potential to hold in carbon and they are often seen as a serious natural technology against global warming.