What’s The Difference Between Net-Zero and Carbon Neutral?

Is there a difference between net-zero and carbon neutral? In this next post in my content series on carbon capture I find myself falling down a rabbit hole in what I call the Wonder(ing)Land of climate change.

It’s important to clearly know what something means right? In today’s world of too many ads, too many posts, too many headlines, too many …. you get the picture….we’re not just inundated with too much information but too much misinformation. This creates ambiguity and confusion, but it does force people like me to dig deeper and source the best and hopefully the right, or closest to right, answers!

Climate Change Lingo & Greenwashing

There are a host of terms being used by companies to signal, and hopefully, demonstrate their commitment to doing something about climate change. Some of these terms you may know. The ones I’m curious about are net-zero, carbon neutral and carbon negative. These are key outcomes, that if real and verified, should help mitigate climate change. Real changes that I’m aiming to accomplish in a carbon sequestration project I’m leading. Contact me if you want to know more about it.

But what do all these terms mean and how are they different? Or are they the same? Does net-zero mean the same as carbon neutral? You’d think it would be fairly straight forward to get that answer right? Well it wasn’t and I have 10 hours of research to attest to that.

The good news for me, and hopefully you, is that I’ve confirmed there is a difference. If you want to know more than that please read on!

So, what’s the Differerce Between Net-Zero and Carbon Neutral Anyway?

If you use Google search and social media to find the answer (there will be more than one!) you’ll go down one massive rabbit hole! Beware, you may never come back from a Wonder(ing)Land of climate based word salads of ambiguity, misinformation and information. I know I’ve been down this rabbit hole and when I came out I was confused to say the least. Even when I emerged out of the rabbit hole with two reputable, independent and science based sources I almost fell back in!

United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC)

The IPCC is the United Nations body for assessing the science related to climate change. The objective of the IPCC is to provide governments at all levels with scientific information that they can use to develop climate policies.

The mainstream media refer to the IPCC reports in their news stories , and by governments to set climate policy and implement programs that aim to reduce the impacts climate change is causing.

When the IPCC issues these reports the media covers it and governments use it to set, implement and justify policy and spending.

The IPCC had to be one of the sources to help me understand the difference between net-zero and carbon neutral. right? I found their glossary of terms and this is when I felt myself slipping back into the rabbit hole of word salads, ambiguity and confusion.

First, there are two net zero definitions we need to be aware of. One is Net-zero C02 which, according to the IPCC definition below, is also referred to as carbon neutrality (it isn’t). So, what’s net-zero then? Simply put it includes CO2 and the other GHG gases. But, as you’ll see below it’s much more than that.

Since my blog series is on carbon capture I decided to focus on just on CO2 related lingo. And the good news is that net-zero CO2 emissions is the same as carbon neutral right? Apples to apples right? The IPCC identifies these terms as interchangeable. Are they? Nope. Enter the Science Based Targets initiative (SBTi). Tee the meme below!

Science Based Targets Initiative (SBTi)

The SBTi is a partnership between the Carbon Disclosure Project (CDP), the United Nations Global Compact, World Resources Institute (WRI) and the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF). According to their website the SBTi drives ambitious climate action in the private sector by enabling organizations to set science based emission reduction targets. In October of 2021 they released a Net-Zero Standard framework which you can learn more about by watching the video below.

I mentioned earlier I almost fell back in the rabbit hole. The IPCC says that net-zero CO2 is the same as carbon neutrality. Not, according to SBTi who provide a very good answer to what’s the difference between net-zero C02 and carbon neutral. Pause, and expell a long sigh of relief!

The good news for me, and maybe you, is we’ve found clarity! And, hopefully this is the answer you’re happy with when asking what’s the difference between Net-Zero, Net-Zero CO2 and Carbon Neutral.

Finally, after hours of searches, reading and watching videos on YouTube I have an answer, I can live with!

I hope you’ve benefited from this post and the connections to the research I’ve conducted and have a better idea of what’s the difference between net-zero and carbon neutral. If you’d like to learn more about how farmers are helping capture carbon check out my post: What is Carbon Sequestration?

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