The questions people ask about Net Zero

JRP Solutions recently hosted a webinar ‘Practical Guidance to Achieving Net Zero’ and participants had some really interesting questions for our panel of experts. We are keen to share knowledge about achieving Net Zero so are publishing our experts’ responses to these questions below.

Posted on 11 June 2020.

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The webinar was extremely well received and we had some great feedback:

“It was a great webinar - one of the best that I've attended.”

“The webinar was excellent and I've gained a lot for attending”

“The webinar on net zero was the most useful one I’ve ever attended. Instead of just giving headlines of what other companies have done it genuinely gave practical steps for what we need to do, some of which we already had done/identified & others which we hadn’t yet thought of). Many thanks”

If you missed the webinar and are interested in seeing a recording, please email me, jane.stanbridge@jrpsolutions.com and I’ll send you a link. If you have any questions not answered below, don’t hesitate to get in touch and I’ll put you in touch with an expert who can help.

Questions and Answers about Net Zero

Q1. What is the role of Carbon off setting?

A1. The aim of the zero carbon standard is to achieve significant carbon reductions to get as close to zero carbon as possible. Only then should offsetting be considered. That said, the role of offsetting as 'beyond' a science based net/zero target can accelerate progress without undermining the integrity of science-based changed. Hence all levers need to be made available in a credible, integrated way - but never offsetting instead of reducing.

Q2. Are science based targets only for the private sector?

A2. No, science-based targets need to be set by any organisation, whether in the public, private or not-for-profit sectors. The SBTi defines sectors in terms of their primary activities in the global economy, i.e. high-emitting sectors down to low emitting sectors so energy utilities are currently high emitters as are many primary production and manufacturing sectors whereas service-based organisations are grouped in the 'office-based sector'. Check the SBTi web site for further advice.

Q3. What is your view on 'insetting'?

A3. This somewhat depends on how you define insetting - if defined as 'within value chain reduction/removal activities’ then insetting has a very useful purpose for helping an organisation to fully account for and reduce it emissions to hit the 2030 target. In this case it would be part of science based targets. Again, the 5 principles of good practice GHG accounting must be applied.

If considered as 'near boundary' (i.e. outside the Scope 3 boundary but related in some way, for example landscape restoration) then this is really offsetting under another name. This may have value, particularly when coupled with in-boundary solutions but should be treated in the same way as offsetting (held to high account, never used instead of internal reduction/removal).

Q4. How can an individual company have science based targets for net zero, when carbon emissions are a cross organisation/sector global issue? Surely the only approach possible is for every individual organisation to reach net zero carbon for their own activities?

A4. Yes, every individual organisation needs to establish its own baseline and determine a strategy and action plan for reducing its emissions to net zero. If every individual organisation does this we will more rapidly and collectively meet the 2050 target. This is why addressing scope 3 and making GHG accounting an integral aspect of every organisation's business strategy so critically important.

Q5. When organisations commit to net zero targets should that include all scope 3 emissions as well as scopes 1 and 2?

A5. Yes, absolutely. Remember the 5 GHG accounting principles and the materiality rule; anything larger than 5% of an organisation's annual footprint that is not accounted for makes their reporting inaccurate and incomplete.

Q5. Where does the circular economy fit?

A5. The circular economy is part of taking a systemic approach to achieving net zero, especially in creating a credible GHG-proofed Action Plan. Adopting a highly resource efficient, circular economy model will substantively help to achieve net zero. Further information can be found on the Ellen McArthur Foundation, Circular Ecology and Cradle-to-Cradle certification web sites.

Q6. Should organisations consider how their pension schemes are invested as these may support fossil fuels?

A6. Yes, very much so because pension investments fall into scope 3 emissions. Investing in fossil-fuel industries has a wide range of drawbacks and negative outcomes so investments need very careful consideration. The investment sector has been slow to get to grips with the net zero process so the IPCC is setting up a climate resilient investment initiative, there are many other initiatives building momentum such as the Global Commission on Adaptation’s project "Driving Finance Today for the Climate Resilient Society of Tomorrow" and report published in 2019.

Q.7. If you can’t afford consultants - how would you map out looking for Scope 2 & 3 data?

A7. Get advice on what and how to do this from the GHG Protocol website by using the Corporate Reporting Standard as advised. Also refer to ISO 14064 and ISO 20400: Sustainable Procurement Standard. Saving energy usage and reducing emissions needs to start by measuring the existing baseline usage and systems to identify where immediate cost-savings can be made. Such an audit is worth investing in because the return on investment can be rapid, with substantial cost-savings being made year on year not only through the implementation of traditional technical projects but also through effecting positive behaviour change. Buying differently and buying low carbon products can dramatically bring down emissions.

Q8. Do you know any good net-zero action plans that are public, to read for inspiration when creating your own?

A8. There are good examples for every sector but it’s debatable whether any one organisation has completely managed it yet. Organisations like Apple, Patagonia clothing, Mud Jeans, Kurabo, Herman Miller and others that are embracing the circular economy are well on their way. Rolls Royce are the most recent organisation to announce their Net Zero Strategy. Every sector has its own issues, with exemplary organisations leading the way. The Ellen McArthur Foundation web site is worth looking through to find good examples of the sector you're most interested in.

Q9. What effect will the upcoming recession will have on achieving net zero? Will we be able to 'build back better' or will the necessities of saving jobs trump this?

A9. It’s probably going to be very mixed, with winners and losers. Many sectors and businesses are going to have to re-think their business models, so it should be taken as an opportunity to do things differently and more positively. Mark Carney's advice should be a warning that businesses that don't change won't exist in 10 years’ time or even sooner

Q10. Is perfection the enemy of the good? Complexity of value chains and imperfect data means firms may take several reporting cycles before becoming confident to be transparent... whereas urgent action is needed, so would you advocate courage to take action without all the data? If so, what factors do leaders need to take into account?

A10. Yes, take action, learn where the data has gaps and needs improving, don't wait for things change, be the change. Every organisation has a business strategy with a review process so we're simply advising that GHG accounting must be an integral part of this.

Q11. What regulation(s) are we likely to see to support delivery of net zero/meeting 1.5 degree target?

A11. The SECR scheme is likely to be rolled out to more organisations in future years. Annual reporting requirements are likely to be strengthened to fully cover GHG emissions reduction progress. There are likely to be more stringent regulations covering waste management and minimisation.

Q12. What would be the one policy change that you would make?

A12. That every organisation must annually and publicly report in detail on its emissions reduction progress, especially all high emitting sectors, as part of their financial accounting process. The UK has a Net Zero target for its own sovereign emissions, this will likely drive legislation at local and national level. Your Scope 3 footprint is likely to be the subject of targets in other nations which may be of mixed quality. Organisations should hold themselves accountable for their impacts elsewhere in the world.

Q13. How likely is a Green Swan recovery in the UK following Covid-19 - how do we ensure it happens?

A13. Good question. Starting a dialogue around what good would look like for society as a whole and for each sector would help to flesh out the potentials and the issues/barriers to change that need resolving. We're already seeing efforts to design public spaces more effectively, making more space for walking and cycling. Public transport is important but social distancing makes it a less attractive option until a vaccine is available. The refurbishment of older buildings and housing stock is critical, plus switching from natural gas to renewable alternatives. A bigger shift towards circular economy goods with transparent and shorter supply chains would be a plus. The aviation sector needs completely re-working, to travelling by air as little as possible until non-polluting technologies can replace the current oil-driven industry.

If you missed the webinar and are interested in seeing a recording, please email me, jane.stanbridge@jrpsolutions.com and I’ll send you a link. If you have any questions not answered above, don’t hesitate to get in touch and I’ll put you in touch with an expert who can help.