The European Union (EU) is striving for climate neutrality by 2050. This is a key objective of the European Green Deal in line with the targets set by the Paris Climate Agreement (COP21) signed in December 2015. The goal is to prevent runaway climate change by keeping global warming to below 2ºC and pursuing efforts to limit it to 1.5ºC. This means global economies must reach net zero emissions with regard to the gases responsible for the infamous greenhouse effect. These days, terms like “carbon neutrality”, “net zero emissions”, or “climate positive” are everywhere. But do these terms mean the same thing? What differences exist between them?
One of the most widely used concepts is “carbon neutrality”. It is defined as the balance between emitting carbon dioxide and absorbing carbon dioxide in carbon sinks. Companies that pledge to become carbon neutral therefore have two options: they can drastically reduce their carbon emissions to zero or balance out their emissions through offsetting and the purchase of carbon credits.
Liberty Wines provides a clear example of how this strategy can be implemented in the wine industry.
The English importer has reduced its emissions by 37% since 2017 through direct reduction measures applied to its activities – such as using renewable energy at its offices – and indirect measures through a carbon offset scheme. By participating in such a programme, the company helps finance several projects around the world, such as planting trees to protect the forests and biodiversity of Kenya.
“Net zero emissions” refers to a balance between the total amount of greenhouse gases produced and the amount removed from the atmosphere. In other words, the amount of greenhouse gases that is added to the atmosphere cannot be greater than the amount that is eliminated. In practical terms, this means we need to implement programmes that focus on reduction strategies, because the more emissions we produce, the more carbon we need to remove from the atmosphere to reach net zero.
International Wineries for Climate Action (IWCA) is the first association in the wine industry to partner with the Race to Zero campaign. This global UN-backed initiative wants to ensure a healthy, resilient future with its commitment to reaching net zero emissions by 2050 at the very latest.
In another wine world example, this year Treasury Wine Estates made a pledge to reach net zero in its scope 1 and 2 emissions by 2030.
Based on everything we’ve said so far, the concepts of “carbon neutrality” and “net zero emissions” might seem quite similar. So, what exactly differentiates the two?
In both cases, companies and organizations work on reducing and balancing out their carbon footprint.
“Carbon neutrality” refers to a policy of not increasing carbon emissions and reducing them through offsets. “Net zero emissions” means making changes to reduce carbon emissions to the lowest amount possible.
The goal is to reach a state where the amount of added emissions does not exceed the amount eliminated from the atmosphere. In other words, net zero emissions describes the moment when the capture or elimination of greenhouse gases balances out the greenhouse gases being released at that time.
Finally, we have “climate positive”, another frequently used term. Climate positive refers to strategies that go beyond net zero emissions to actually benefit the environment.
This happens when a company removes more emissions from the atmosphere than it produces. It represents a regenerative way of thinking that strives to repair the damage that has been done to the climate.
For many companies, becoming climate positive is the ultimate goal. Net zero is only a milestone along the way. Let’s look at an example from the wine world: in its most recent sustainability report, “The Rooted for Good”, Jackson Family in California outlined its goal of becoming climate positive by 2050.
If we consider these concepts, now that we understand them better, we see that the sustainability strategies of most companies and organizations initially pursue neutrality-oriented targets. These neutrality milestones mark the first step on the road to achieving net zero emissions with the ultimate goal of becoming climate positive.
In order to meet any of these targets, wine industry organizations and companies need to fully understand their carbon footprint, which requires the use of an appropriate measuring system. Over the past decade, we have seen a significant rise in the number of initiatives that help organizations and companies reach these targets. Most of them work with two international standards: GHG Protocol and ISO 14064, which certify the carbon footprint of companies and institutions.
Regardless of the strategy they choose, organizations and companies must focus their sustainability efforts on initiatives that bring about real emission reductions over time. Carbon offset schemes are a useful tool to kick-start change, but should be seen as a secondary resource. After all, eliminating emissions elsewhere does not eliminate the very real problem created by producing emissions in the first place, it will only mitigate it.
Marta Juega, Ph.D.