Carbon neutrality is a term used to describe the state of a system or entity that has achieved a balance between the greenhouse gas emissions they create and remove from the atmosphere, by offsetting emissions through carbon credits or other offsetting schemes. Achieving carbon neutrality is seen as a key step in mitigating the negative impacts of climate change by reducing the amount of greenhouse gases that are released into the atmosphere.
The Difference between Carbon Neutral and Net Zero
While the terms carbon neutral and net zero are often used interchangeably, there is a subtle difference between the two. Carbon neutrality refers to the state of a system that has achieved zero net carbon dioxide emissions, meaning that it has either reduced its emissions to zero or offset them completely through the use of carbon credits or other mechanisms.
Achieving net zero emissions means that the system has balanced its emissions with the amount of carbon removed from the atmosphere, either through natural processes or through technological solutions such as carbon capture and storage. Net zero does not allow for the use of carbon credits and carbon offsetting.
UK Standards for Carbon Neutrality
In the UK, there are a number of standards and guidelines in place to help organisations achieve carbon neutrality. One such standard is BSI PAS 2060, which provides a framework for organisations to achieve carbon neutrality through the use of offsets and other measures.
BSI PAS 2060 sets out a number of requirements for organisations seeking to achieve carbon neutrality. These include:
- Calculating Emissions: Organisations must first calculate their carbon footprint, including all direct and indirect emissions associated with their operations. This includes emissions from energy use, transportation, and the use of materials and products.
- Reduction Targets: Organisations must set targets for reducing their emissions over time, with the ultimate goal of reaching carbon neutrality.
- Offsetting: To achieve carbon neutrality, organisations may use carbon offsets, which are credits generated by projects that reduce or remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. Offsets may include projects such as reforestation, renewable energy projects, or energy efficiency improvements.
- Verification: Organisations must have their carbon footprint and offsetting activities independently verified to ensure that they meet the requirements of the standard.
- Reporting: Organisations must report on their carbon neutrality status and their progress towards reducing emissions over time.
The Benefits of Achieving Carbon Neutrality
There are a number of benefits to achieving carbon neutrality. These include:
Climate Change Mitigation
Carbon neutrality is a key step in mitigating the negative impacts of climate change by reducing greenhouse gas emissions and limiting the amount of carbon dioxide that is released into the atmosphere.
Reducing energy use and emissions can also result in cost savings for organisations, through reduced energy bills and other operational efficiencies.
Achieving carbon neutrality can also enhance an organisation’s reputation, demonstrating its commitment to sustainability and reducing its environmental impact.
Carbon neutrality can also provide a competitive advantage, as consumers and investors increasingly seek out sustainable products and services.
Concerns Around Carbon Neutrality
Lack of standards
Currently, there is no universal standard or certification for carbon neutrality. This means that companies can make claims about being carbon neutral without actually meeting any specific criteria or undergoing any third-party verification.
When purchasing carbon credits to offset emissions, it is important to ensure that the credits are from high-quality, verified projects that actually reduce emissions. However, not all carbon offsets are created equal, and some may be of questionable quality or effectiveness.
It is important to ensure that any carbon offsets purchased are additional, meaning that they represent emissions reductions that would not have occurred without the offset project. Otherwise, the offset may not actually be reducing emissions beyond what would have happened anyway.
Scope of emissions
Carbon neutrality typically only applies to a company’s direct emissions (Scope 1) and indirect emissions from purchased energy (Scope 2). However, companies also have indirect emissions from their supply chains (Scope 3), which can be difficult to measure and mitigate.
There is a risk of companies making false or exaggerated claims about their carbon neutrality in order to improve their public image or brand reputation. This is known as greenwashing and can undermine the credibility of legitimate efforts to reduce emissions.
If you are interested in achieving carbon neutrality or net zero for your business or organisation, please contact our carbon consultants.