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Understanding Net Zero: What It Is

Net zero, or carbon neutrality, means eliminating the same amount of carbon dioxide (CO2) from the atmosphere that’s put into it. But why is it so important?

Achieving net zero emissions—in business operations, manufacturing, energy production, and more—will substantially help reduce the impacts of climate change since CO2 is one of the primary greenhouse gases (GHGs) in the atmosphere that absorb and re-emit heat.

Mitigating the Impacts of Climate Change

Earth’s average surface temperature has risen about 1.62°F since the late 19th century. This is largely due to increased CO2 and other human-made emissions in the atmosphere.[i] Less than two degrees may not seem like a lot, but small changes in temperature correspond to enormous changes in the environment.

For instance, here in Michigan, climate change has already led to more severe thunderstorms and tornadoes. But that’s just the beginning. If we don’t address it now, things will get worse. The Great Lakes could flood, more days will become extremely hot, and soil moisture will be reduced. This could endanger our health and the quality of our air and water, while devastating corn and other vital harvests that could undermine Michigan’s thriving agricultural industry.[ii],[iii]

Setting Ambitious Goals

A landmark United Nations study stated that global carbon emissions must reach net zero by 2050 for our planet to have at least a 50% chance of avoiding the worst effects of climate change.[iv] This is why 2050 has become a focal point for net zero.

The good news is, leaders in both the private and public sectors throughout the world are working toward this goal, including major businesses and local energy providers right here in Michigan—but more on that in a later post.

How We Get There

Achieving net zero will take multiple approaches, but will likely involve the following:

No matter how we get there, the important thing to understand is that net zero is about more than just renewables. It’s about reducing carbon emissions by striking the right balance of renewables, clean energy technologies, energy efficiency, and carbon capture. Ultimately, achieving net zero emissions—whether it is in our businesses, in the way we produce energy, or how we live our personal lives—will lead to a cleaner, more sustainable energy future for us all.

[i] https://climate.nasa.gov/evidence/

[ii] https://climate.nasa.gov/effects/

[iii] https://climate.nasa.gov/effects/

[iv] http://nathancummings.org/wp-content/uploads/net-zero-report.pdf (p3); https://www.un.org/sustainabledevelopment/blog/2018/10/special-climate-report-1-5oc-is-possible-but-requires-unprecedented-and-urgent-action/

[v] https://www.michiganradio.org/post/consumers-energy-makes-first-nation-goal-net-zero-carbon-emissions-2040