What is net zero? – PODCAST

Episode four of Snack-sized sustainability explores what net zero means, why it’s important to achieve it, and why organisations need to get ahead of the curve.

What is net zero? – PODCAST

Episode four of Snack-sized sustainability explores what net zero means, why it’s important to achieve it, and why organisations need to get ahead of the curve.


In the fourth episode of our Snack-sized sustainability podcast, Sarah Hammond explains net zero.

Tune in to hear what it means and why it’s important for organisations to get ahead of the curve and start making a change internally?

Listen here or read on for an edited transcript.


Welcome to “Snack-sized sustainability”. Part of our Simply Sustainability podcast brought to you by Clarasys.

Each snippet will see me, Sarah Hammond, discuss a key sustainability concept in less than five minutes. So grab a snack and get comfortable. Today we are going to be talking about net zero.

Net zero is a term that is used often and frequently. It is met with nods and agreement and the undoubted assumption that it is a good thing. But what does it mean?

What does net zero mean?

Net zero means cutting greenhouse gas emissions of which carbon is the most common to as close to zero as possible. Therefore, when we say net zero, we’re not just talking about carbon, but all greenhouse gases, which includes others, such as nitrus oxide and methane.

However, humans create more carbon dioxide than any other greenhouse gas by quite a substantial amount, which is why they are the focus of sustainability efforts.

There are two different routes to achieving net zero, which work in tandem. One, reducing existing emissions and two, actively removing greenhouse gases.

Why is it so important to achieve net zero?

In order to avert the worst impacts of climate change and allow us to enjoy a livable planet, global temperature should not exceed the maximum of 1.5 Celsius above pre-industrial levels. And right now the world is already 1.1 Celsius warmer than it was in the 1800s.

A gross zero target would mean reducing all emissions to zero. This is not realistic. So instead the net zero target recognizes that there will be some emissions, but that these need to be fully offset predominately through natural carbon sinks, such as oceans and forests.

But why 1.5 Celsius?

This is a scientifically supported measure. This is because any increase will impact the variability of the climate and our ability to live and survive and thrive on the planet we live on. And this will also lead to more extreme weather events, such as flash floods. This economic impact can not be underestimated with costs soaring as natural resources become less available. And a mass cost of refitting lost infrastructure, which will lead to a huge amount of climate refugees.

What are the current goals in the UK?

Currently, the UK needs to reduce emissions by 68% in comparison to 1990 levels by 2030 in order to achieve net zero by 2050.

The UK government set out a policy paper in October, 2021 entitled ‘Net Zero Strategy: Build Back Greener“‘, which says “This strategy sets out policies and proposals for decarbonizing all sectors of the UK economy to meet our net zero target by 2050”. But it’s important to note it is global action that is needed to achieve net zero. And there are many countries that are contributing greatly to climate change that have been extremely delayed in policy change and action, for example, China and Russia.

It is also important to note countries such as India, which are facing a very real tension between the fact that they are still experiencing industrialization at present and their contribution to climate change.

An important recent update in this space is the third paper from the intergovernmental panel on climate change.

This calls for far more drastic action, and as highlighted a peak in emissions will occur latest by 2025. And that without aggressive and drastic steps through policy change throughout 2030, 2040 and 2050, then temperatures are predicted to rise beyond 2025, rather than decrease to the 1.5 Celsius level we so drastically require.

Our Head of Sustainability Sam Maguire recently released a summary of the IPCC paper, which highlights the need for rapid transition to renewables and the electrification of key industries.

Why is it so important that organizations get ahead of the curve and start to make change internally themselves?

To support the UK’s transition to net zero the UK government has introduced legislation that will make it mandatory for the UK’s largest businesses to disclose their climate risks and opportunities. Subject to parliamentary approval this will go through on or after April, 2022. This legislation in the context of reporting and disclosure needs to be coupled with meaningful, embedded sustainability into an organisation’s long-term strategy.

And this is something that we would love to help you with. If you’re interested in talking to us about your net zero strategy, please reach out today. We’d love to hear from you.

Thank you for listening to Snack-sized sustainability. We hope you enjoyed it and learned something new. Please do let us know if there are any key sustainability concepts you’d like us to cover. We look forward to welcoming you back on our next episode.

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