Since the UK Government proposed a legally binding net zero emissions target back in 2019, there's been no shortage of businesses creating their own respective plans for net zero carbon reduction. According to scientific sources, this target must be met by 2050 if we're to limit global warming and avoid the worst of what climate change can cause.
For large businesses looking to increase their commitments to net zero carbon, we've created this extensive guide to clear up some of the issues that surround the topic. Here, we discuss how commitments to net zero work in practice, and what impact the changes could have on businesses across the UK.
What does net zero mean?
One of the difficulties standing in the way of net zero is that there is no internationally recognised definition of it. Moreover, the lack of universal guidelines on how to achieve it makes things even murkier.
Nevertheless, net zero is a state where no incremental greenhouse gases are added to the atmosphere. This means emissions output is balanced with the removal (through a process called sequestration) of carbon from the atmosphere via carbon sinks such as forests or by carbon capture and storage.
Even with the lack of any true definition, it's at least obvious that the key to net zero is a significant reduction in emissions. We need to reduce emissions output as close to zero as possible; what's left should be removed to achieve net zero.
An important note: net zero differs from zero carbon, which requires no carbon to be emitted as the key criteria.
Net zero and long-term climate change targets in the UK
So how does net zero play a role in the UK's long-term climate change targets? Regarding the legally-binding 80% reduction in emissions by the 2050 target, the UK is currently off-track to meet future carbon budgets. To reach that 80% target by 2050, we'll need to reduce emissions by at least 3% every year – a target which is roughly being met (total emissions were down 3.6% during the most recent recorded year).
And despite claiming "world leader" status regarding emissions reduction, the UK Government has been criticised for its outdated – though commonly used – approach to carbon accounting.
Although the UK Climate Change Act covers all sectors, international aviation and shipping are measured on a "territorial basis". This means that territorial emissions are accounted for within a country's borders; once it leaves a national border, the emissions of transport are ignored. It's hoped that if the territorial approach was replaced, emission reductions would fall as a result.
If the net zero target is to be met, then it's going to cost. Then-chancellor Philip Hammond stated annual investment to the tune of £1 trillion will be required, though overall, such investment would have positive effects on both the economy and easing impacts of climate change.
So, what does this mean for businesses? Ideally, all businesses should find ways to reduce their energy consumption, improve their energy efficiency across all sites, and take the necessary steps to offset any emissions.
And some businesses have been quick to respond, forming their own net zero strategies and setting their own targets as a result. Some early adopters have claimed that they've already reached aims to become carbon neutral.
However, even with the best intentions, it can be a struggle to transition to net zero practices. We'll take a look at how you can get started with creating a net zero strategy below.
How to create a net zero strategy
If you're looking to start on the path towards net zero, you should begin by collecting accurate data on your business' total emissions footprint. Here are the different data sets which can be collected to provide insight into your business’ total emissions.
Without this information, setting targets would be pointless; it would be impossible to assess whether they're attainable or ambitious in the first place, and you wouldn't be able to track progress against them either.
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Where and when your energy use and emissions occur is vital to this data collection process. Where you use energy can inform where action should be prioritised, while the when can help you reduce costs and assist in the development of a renewables-ready grid by investing in flexible energy systems such as eco gas and carbon offsetting – which we can help you with.
The Gazprom Energy team can help you achieve your sustainability/net zero objective, get in touch with one of our expert account managers to discover how.
A target will only get you so far. A roadmap towards net zero needs to have clear, costed and time-bound delivery plans for each key step in your journey.
A proper roadmap should account for factors like upcoming policy changes, technology and infrastructure forecasts, as well as other business priorities. What's more, your targets should be deliverable.
One of the benefits of working from home due to the pandemic is the reduction in emissions caused by things like commuting and business trips, as well as energy use in offices.
By emphasising their efforts in this reduction, now would be the time to engage staff in a way that changes company culture with regards to energy use. Although pre-pandemic workplace schemes certainly existed, there's an opportunity to get real buy-in from staff by formally altering the way they work.
Whether it's continuing to work from home for a few days each week or re-thinking company car and travel schemes, using these reductions to alter employee behaviour can be massively helpful to your overall strategy.
If you’d like some inspiration around strategies to improve business energy efficiency, take a look at our comprehensive guide.
Achieving buy-in across the business is essential. Whatever size and sector you're in, you'll need to win the support of senior staff to ensure your delivery of net zero is on time.
With the UK Government legislating for net zero, it's certainly good news for sustainability and energy professionals looking to engage senior staff. In doing so, learning the specific priorities, needs, and habits of senior managers allows energy professionals to use net zero as an opportunity.
There are numerous ways senior management can respond, so tailor your approach accordingly. You may want to lead with quantitative financial information, show how it can improve brand reputation, or by emphasising the moral necessity of dealing with climate change.
And don't forget the requirement needs to be compliant with all aspects of your business’ procurement standards. The financial- and performance-related risks as a result of inaction may be enough for some senior staff to reject net zero regardless of its other benefits.
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