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Moving Forward with Net-Zero

by Zach Harmer & Nancy Marshall | February 29, 2020

In late January 2020, the United States House Energy and Commerce Committee released a discussion document on the Climate Leadership and Environmental Action for our Nation’s (“CLEAN”) Future Act, which has the broad sweeping goal of reaching a “100% clean economy by 2050”.  It is one of many attempts from the federal government to align goals for creating an economy that achieves carbon neutrality.  In contrast to the political inertia we have seen in advancing meaningful climate action in some governments, we have witnessed a number of municipal, sub-national and international governments along with many multinational and local companies increase their commitments towards carbon neutrality.  So if we are seeing social, corporate and political trends towards a 100% clean economy, what is the role of legislation if action is already happening?  Why are announcements like the CLEAN Future Act still meaningful and needed?

First, let’s start with the question “What does a ‘100% Clean Economy’ really mean?” Everything has a carbon footprint – you have a personal one, your business has one, so does your favorite sports team and coffee shop. If you can find a way to reduce your personal carbon footprint, offset your remaining carbon impact, and/or support external efforts that make that footprint carbon neutral, you can achieve 100% net carbon neutrality.

Beyond these personal actions, we are seeing increasingly more corporate commitment to achieving net-zero emissions – from Microsoft’s decision to become carbon negative by 2030 to Cenovus Energy’s pledge to carbon neutrality by 2050. This growing number of commitments represents a significant shift towards a more carbon-conscious business world.  Parallel to these milestone announcements, we have begun to see some governments design the enabling and backstop legislation that sets clear and measurable emission reduction targets and provides a broad range of incentives to encourage citizens and businesses to reach a common goal.

At the individual level, reducing your carbon footprint, such as paying extra for green electricity, can be expensive and may not be an option for everyone. Similarly, reducing emissions at the corporate level reducing emissions may not be as economically and/or technologically feasible from sector to sector or from facility to facility. Therefore, one of the most important considerations for any net-zero legislation is to ensure that there are programs in place to support those areas of the economy most affected by the legislation; this can be achieved by providing extra support in the form of funding for the development and trial of new technologies, or for less stringent emission reduction targets.

The CLEAN Future Act provides just one example of how governments can define, target, and delegate the path to net-zero emissions by 2050. Canada, for example, has recently committed to net-zero emissions by 2050 and is developing an action plan. In addition to Canada, there are more than 70 other countries that have committed to being net-zero by 2050. Though the commitment remains the same, each country will have to develop their own unique strategy to achieve carbon neutrality. More interesting, perhaps, is how these countries may look to harmonize and coordinate their climate ambition to scale meaningful change and progress.

Currently, there is no “one-size-fits-all” solution to achieving net-zero emissions.  As we advance into the 2020s, we are likely to see more commitments to net-zero and new innovative approaches to reducing emissions. So, what can you do?

  1. Stay informed – with the actions being taken locally, at the community, state, and federal levels; and
  2. Make your voice heard – during government consultations or through your local representatives.

About the Authors

Zach Harmer is a Policy Analyst at ClimeCo. He lives in Calgary, Alberta, and is an avid outdoor enthusiast. In his spare time, Zach enjoys exploring the Rocky Mountains and cooking for family and friends.

Nancy Marshall is a Corporate Marketing Director at ClimeCo. She is originally from Maryland and currently lives in Houston, Texas. She enjoys boating and fishing on Lake Livingston, cooking, baking (especially at Christmas), and crafting with vinyl.

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