IEMA Policy and Engagement Lead, Nick Blyth FIEMA CEnv discusses the launch of IEMA's 'Net Zero Explained' alongside the release of a new 'Climate Change and Energy Toolkit'.

Scientific reports, including from the IPCC, highlight that we already have global warming of around 1.1°C above pre-industrial levels. A global ‘rebalancing’ of emissions (or a transition to net-zero) has to be pursued at pace, and with emission cuts of around 50% by 2030, for any prospect of staying close to 1.5°C of warming. In addition to commitments by governments, companies, local authorities and other ‘non-state actors’ are increasingly making their own pledges to align to the global science and to transition at pace.

This concept of an organisation seeking itself to become net zero, has become synonymous with climate leadership. At the same time, net zero has received criticism as a concept that (if wrongly approached) can allow organisations to avoid transition and continue ‘business as usual’.

Areas of concern include the risk that longer-term targets are set too far into the future, still allowing significant emissions in more immediate decades and therefore failing to align with the required transition pace. Concerns also exist around some carbon (GHG) accounting methodologies and also around the use of carbon offsetting. These all require careful attention to ensure transparency and credibility as part of a strategic approach.

Through surveys of sustainability professionals, IEMA has traced some trends in organisational practice. In addition to the clear growth in the use of net zero targets (a 30% increase over the last two years) there are some notable trends over the decade from 2010. Improvements to buildings and premises and active energy management approaches both continue to be leading approaches. Engagement and team approaches have slightly declined (this may reflect changes during the pandemic) while there has been an increase in the importance of organisational approaches such as management systems and sustainable procurement. The latter may well reflect the importance of addressing scope 3 value chain emissions within net zero approaches although recent progress here appears steady rather than transformative.

Moving through the IEMA GHG Management Hierarchy, it appears that substitution measures such as fuel-switching and on-site renewables have increased over time. Similarly, there is an increase in actions directed at product and service carbon emissions and a notable increase in ‘compensatory’ measures such as green-energy tariffs and use of carbon offsets.

IEMA explores these issues in a new short briefing, helping professionals to understand and navigate this evolving landscape. Tracing from science and international policy origins of net zero, through to the term’s growing use by differing actors, explanations and links are provided regarding terminology, trends in practice, key developments and approach considerations.

Net zero as a direction for mobilising commitments has undoubted appeal and importance. The imperative for professions will continue to be to raise the bar, ensuring that practice is credible, transparent and aligned with the reality of the global science.

Download your copy of 'Net Zero Explained' here.

Download your copy of the Climate Change and Energy Toolkit here.