What does “net zero emissions” actually mean?

At the COP26 Climate Change Conference held in Glasgow in November 2021, 120 world leaders and more than 40,000 participants gathered to discuss global climate action. Their goal? To reduce greenhouse gas emissions and restore the commitments made under the 2015 Paris Agreement. The main objective of the Paris Agreement was to limit global warming to 2 ° C and specifically to 1.5 ° C compared to pre-industrial levels.

Finally, world leaders have agreed to address issues such as fossil fuel subsidies, deforestation, methane emissions, and conversions to clean energy, with the goal of achieving net zero global emissions by the middle of the century (2050).

Only politicians do not promise net zero. Private sector leaders also have an important role to play in the fight against climate change, and many have made their own commitments. For example, more than 200 companies recently signed the Amazon-backed climate pledge, pledging to achieve net zero carbon emissions at the company-wide level by 2040.

But what does “net zero emissions” really mean?

Fundamentals of Climate Change: A Glossary

If you are new to learning about climate change, it is helpful to understand the basics before diving into the concept of “net zero”. Here are some useful climate science terms to know:

Ethnographic climate change

“Anthropogenic” means “related to human activity”, so Ethnographic climate change Man-made climate change.

Since the end of the 19th century, the average surface temperature of the Earth has risen by about 2 ° F (1 ° C). Much of this warming has occurred in the last 40 years. 97 percent or more actively expressing climate scientists agree that this trend is probably ethnographic.

Courtesy of climate.nasa.gov

Climate change has many negative environmental effects, including extreme weather events, rising sea levels and the melting of polar ice caps.

Greenhouse gas

Many human activities and industrial processes produce gases such as carbon dioxide, methane and nitrous oxide. This is known as Greenhouse gas. Greenhouse gases trap heat in the atmosphere, causing the planet to warm up. This phenomenon is called the “greenhouse effect”.

Carbon footprint

A Carbon footprint The total amount of greenhouse gases produced by a particular activity, event, person, group or organization.


COe “Carbon dioxide (CO₂) equivalent.” Carbon footprints are often measured in units of CO₂e.

Since there are many types of greenhouse gases, it is helpful to have a single way to standardize them all. If you convert a unit of different greenhouse gases to the equivalent of carbon dioxide based on the global warming potential (GWP) of each gas, you get a unit of CO₂e. This will allow you to express a carbon footprint using only one number, although the footprint may contain multiple gases.

Greenhouse gas Possibility of global warming
1 kg of carbon dioxide (CO)2) 1 kg CO2e
1 kg Methane (CH4) ~ 12 kg CO2e
1 kg nitrous oxide (N2O) ~ 114 kg CO2e

Carbon offset

Carbon offset One way for companies to mitigate their environmental impact is to 1) measure the number of metric tons (tons) of CO₂ they emit and 2) compensate for those emissions by purchasing carbon credits.

Typically, buying carbon credits involves contributing to a project that either reduces the current level of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere or reduces future emissions. Some examples of carbon offset projects include planting trees, capturing greenhouse gases through technology, or converting them into renewable energy.


Decarbonization Reducing carbon dioxide emissions by transferring to low carbon energy sources. This is an essential step towards meeting the net zero emissions target.

Zero, of course

Zero, of course It is commonly used to refer to sustainable strategies that focus on emissions reduction and lifestyle change as the primary means of combating climate change.

Carbon atom

Carbon neutral, Also known as Climate neutrality, Similar concept to net zero. However, with more emphasis on reducing “net zero” emissions, carbon offsetting is used as a secondary strategy.

What is meant by net zero emissions?

The United Nations defines “net zero” as “reducing greenhouse gas emissions as close to zero as possible, with residual emissions from the atmosphere being re-absorbed by the oceans and forests.” An effective Net Zero plan usually involves a targeted approach to emissions reduction and carbon offsetting.

A research paper published in the scientific journal “Nature” explains how we can reach the global net zero promise. The author says that the net to go to zero:

  • Long-term carbon emissions and emissions must be balanced, for decades
  • Emissions reduction should be “front-loaded” (that is, we should reduce emissions as soon as possible)
  • Our goal should be to reduce emissions across all industries
  • We should primarily focus on reducing emissions and using CO₂e removal as a secondary method.
  • We should use CO₂e removal methods that are effective and resilient
  • Carbon offsets should be high-quality and controlled
  • Countries should share responsibilities equally
  • The CO₂e removal project should respect the local community and the ecosystem
  • Net Zero solutions should be integrated into the larger economy

Ocean wind turbines

Why is it important to have a net zero target?

Net zero targets can help us offset the negative effects of climate change. But to reach net zero by 2050, we all need to pitch – national governments, regional governments, companies and individuals.

By combining emissions reduction strategies with carbon offsetting, companies can take important steps toward the health of the planet.

What is the “scoped” method of the greenhouse gas protocol for measuring emissions?

To reach your net zero goal, it is important to understand how much your company is currently emitting. Not only is it important to assess your business’s climate-related risks, it can also be legally binding.

In March 2022, the US Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) announced that it was considering passing legislation requiring all businesses to assess and disclose their climate risks. If the proposal passes, publicly traded companies will need to include a climate disclosure in their annual financial reports. They need to disclose their scope 1 and scope 2 greenhouse gas emissions. Scope 3 emissions should also include “elements” (i.e., if people use disclosure to make decisions that are potentially affected in their absence).

The definitions of “scope 1”, “scope 2”, and “scope 3” come from the Greenhouse Gas Protocol (GHG Protocol), an organization that provides “the world’s most used greenhouse gas accounting standards”.

co2 switch

Scope 1 Emission

Scope 1 emissions are “direct emissions from a proprietary or controlled source.” This includes any emissions generated from a company’s own assets (for example, company vehicles or on-site manufacturing processes).

Scope 2 emissions

Scope 2 emissions are “indirect emissions from the production of purchased energy.” These include emissions from electricity, or from hot and cold buildings.

Scope 3 emissions

Scope 3 emissions are “all indirect emissions (not included in Scope 2) that occur in the reporting company’s value chain, which includes both upstream and downstream emissions.” This includes emissions generated by a company’s products, supply chain or business travel.

According to McKinsey, to meet the global net zero target by 2050, companies need to “define, implement and develop decorization and offsetting plans for Scope 1 and 2 emissions, and potentially include Scope 3 emissions to include those plans.”

How can the travel industry work towards meeting the net zero goal?

Sustainable Aviation Fuel (SAF) and other sustainable flight technologies

Sustainable aviation fuel Waste is produced from substances, such as used cooking oil or agricultural residues. It can provide up to 80% reduction in CO₂ emissions compared to conventional jet fuel.

Today, many airlines and aerospace manufacturers aim to make more use of sustainable aviation fuel. According to the International Air Transport Association (IATA), More than 370,000 flights have been used by SAF since 2016, and more than 45 airlines now have experience with SAF..

Other sustainable flight technologies are also being developed. Airbus, for example, plans to build a zero-emissions, hydrogen-powered commercial aircraft by 2035, and a team from Oxford University is experimenting with ways to convert CO₂ into jet fuel. A particularly exciting new technology Electric planeWhich could be commercially launched in the United States by 2026 (full-electric flights have already flown successfully).

Changes in the hospitality industry

Hotels, restaurants and transportation operators are taking significant steps to become more sustainable. Some examples include:

Overall, hospitality organizations are working to become more energy-efficient, reduce costs, and make greater use of renewable energy. Some hotels around the world are now using solar panels, geothermal energy, hydro-electric generators and biofuels to run their businesses.

Solar power panels

Carbon removal

Carbon removal Refers to the removal of CO₂ from the atmosphere. This can be achieved through methods such as afforestation (planting trees) or alkalization of the sea (adding alkaline substances to the sea). This can also be achieved through technical solutions.

Carbon removal technology is a promising type Direct Air Capture (DAC). DAC technology removes CO₂ from the air. CO₂ is then permanently stored in the soil or reused elsewhere.

Airlines and travel industry groups are now partnering directly with Air Capture Solutions. For example, United Airlines is investing millions of dollars in 1 PointFive, a project to build an industrial-sized direct air capture plant in the United States. Also, Tomorrow’s Air initiative is partnering with Swiss startup ClimbWorks to encourage world travelers to help with carbon removal.

Switching to rail travel

On a personal level, travelers can always choose a more eco-friendly way of traveling if possible. For example, a flight from London to Madrid will emit 118 kg CO₂ (or 265 kg CO₂e) per passenger, but only 43 kg CO₂ per passenger on the train.

Since train travel is a very sustainable method of transportation, many regions are now taking steps to encourage it. The European Commission has declared 2021 as the “European Year of Rail”. China has greatly expanded its rail network, and the United States plans to do the same, as India moves towards electrified railways and net zero carbon emissions by 2030.

Carbon offsetting

After taking steps to reduce travel-related emissions, companies can offset their remaining emissions through afforestation (carbon sink) and renewable energy projects.

At TravelPerk, we’ve created our GreenPerk program and the GreenPerk API to help companies measure, reduce and offset their business travel carbon footprint. Our reporting methods are aligned with the TCFD framework, and allow you to easily track your business travel emissions from all sources. This will help you understand and express your Scope 3 emissions. You can then take steps to reduce your emissions and offset the remaining emissions to meet your net zero goal by contributing to a VERRA-certified project through GreenPerk.

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