Carbon Neutral And Net Zero Explained Simply

Both terms Carbon Neutral and Net Zero Emissions are banded about on TV and in the news, but really, what’s the difference between the two?

It’s actually more complicated than one would first imagine, so we’re going to break it down in simple terms, explain how we use it on Greenermobiles.com and provide you with an expert source that goes into detail.

In technical terms, Carbon Neutrality is about having net zero CO2 emissions achieved through balancing CO2 output with CO2 removal over a specific period of time.

Put more simply, being Carbon Neutral means ensuring any actions we take do not contribute more CO2 to the atmosphere than was present before we started. This could mean our actions produce minimal CO2 emissions, and/or any emissions produced are offset with initiatives that take carbon from the atmosphere.

When we reference carbon neutrality, we don’t always mention that it is measured over a period of time, but it’s important for organisations and projects that become carbon neutral specify a time frame.

Becoming carbon neutral requires organisations to measure their CO2 emissions, understanding where and how much CO2 they are producing. Once the source of CO2 in a company or project has been identified, they can begin to reduce and eliminate CO2 output. This could be by getting power from renewable energy rather than oil, gas or coal.

Another part of going carbon neutral can include neutralising carbon emitted. For example, you might grab carbon as it comes out of a chimney, then bury it underground. The carbon is still produced, but is now inert and can’t get into the atmosphere.

The offsetting side of carbon neutrality is the part we probably associate the most with the process. Planting trees will be the first thing that comes to mind. Until organisations can cut off emissions at the source, they’ll need to invest in projects that pull carbon from the atmosphere.

With Net Zero emissions, it’s about tackling all types of greenhouse gasses, not just CO2. It can be harder to measure and offset these kind of emissions. Remember campaigns against CFCs throughout the 90s? Chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) include carbon as well as chlorine, and fluorine. These are examples of gasses that are not carbon, but created by humans and contribute significantly to climate change. Because CFC use has now been banned by around 200 countries worldwide, they should no longer pose an ongoing threat to the climate.

After pursuing carbon neutrality and becoming a net zero emissions organisation, the next step is to become Carbon Negative and actively remove carbon from the atmosphere beyond what is introduced. Alexanne Heurtier has a detailed explanation of the terms Carbon Neutral and Net Zero emissions to help us all get the terminology right.