With net-zero, or net-zero carbon, the industry refers to achieving an overall balance between GHG emissions produced and GHG emissions taken out of the atmosphere of the earth. Unlike a gross-zero target, where all sources become zero, net-zero takes into account some residual emissions, where GHG offsetting is achieved by removing emissions through initiatives such as planting trees or carbon capture and storage technologies.
We are aware that some Clients, especially who is comfortable enough to admit it, need a bit more background about the “carbon” definition. For everybody who doesn’t really use any actual carbon for their activities and may be wondering what the point is in lowering their carbon emissions, we have listed below the key industry metrics:
“Reducing carbon” refers to reducing carbon dioxide equivalent i.e. the GWP.
The pathway to net-zero started a few decades ago, with the Kyoto Protocol. The key drivers to date have been the following:
With the current technologies, apart from a few market niches and even then limiting the boundary to a specific scope only, carbon offsetting today is not just an option, but a necessity to achieve net-zero carbon status. Offsetting is the process of compensating carbon emissions by contributing, usually financially, towards solutions to reduce emissions elsewhere. Typically, this is put in practice by establishing carbon offset funds which then invest in renewable energy and other carbon reduction measures.
With “carbon neutral” the industry historically refers to a more established approach where organisations fully exploit carbon offsetting as their main method to lower and potentially outweigh (i.e. becoming net-positive) their carbon impacts.
In their definition of net-zero carbon status, organisations usually take into account Scope 1 and 2 GHG emissions only, which are usually within their control. For clarity:
The figure below shows an overview of GHG scopes and emissions across the value chain:
It is important to specify the boundary of a net-zero target i.e. whole life carbon or just one of the two components below:
The figures below are taken from the London Energy Transformation Initiative (LETI)’s Climate Emergency Design Guide:
For the property sector, operational GHG emissions associated with the building energy use are typically between 40% and 65% of the total carbon emissions. They include both:
The definition of “net-zero carbon” building is not set in stone, however there are certain principles that have been almost universally recognised as must-have and also apply in a well-defined sorting order of priorities, such as:
You may find many similarities with the definition of “Nearly zero-energy buildings” (NZEB) introduced with the Directive 2010/31/EU, recast of the EPBD 2002/91/EC: Nearly zero-energy buildings have very high energy performance and the low amount of energy that these buildings require comes mostly from renewable sources, produced on site or nearby. All new buildings should be NZEB by 31st December 2020.
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