What does the term “net-zero emissions” mean when it comes to climate change?
To put it simple “net zero” refers to achieving an overall balance between gas emissions released to the atmosphere as well as those we remove. Contrarily to a “gross-zero” target (reduction of ALL gas emissions to zero), it is much more realistic as even with best efforts it is not attainable to stop some emissions completely. Whether we limit emissions slightly or meet the actual target, will be critical to our future. So here are four ways that can help every government, sector, industry and individual to cut the carbon emissions that we produce.
4 ways to reach net-zero emissions
1. Bioenergy with carbon capture and storage
The carbon capture and storage (BECCS) seems to be the most effective and therefore, the primary way of removing CO2 from the atmosphere. This can be done by converting biomass, into electricity, heat, or biofuels. At the same time, the carbon emissions produced during this process would be captured and stored. The tricky part is that the entire process — from the supply chain to carbon storage — must emit less or close to zero CO2 than the amount ultimately captured and stored.
2. Direct air capture
Burning biomass is not the only way to achieve net-zero emissions. Direct Air Capture (DAC) is a process that captures carbon dioxide directly from the ambient air with an engineered, mechanical system. This is what plants and trees do every day as they photosynthesize, except Direct Air Capture technology does it much faster. It also has a smaller area footprint and delivers the CO2 in a pure, compressed form that can then be stored underground or used in the production of fuels, chemicals, building materials and other products containing CO2.
Agriculture, deforestation, wood-burning and soil cultivation and “other land use” is responsible for almost a quarter of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions. Preventing deforestation as well as planting more trees, which absorb carbon dioxide as they grow is the best solution to achieve “net zero emissions” target when it comes to reducing carbon emissions.
A study by Swiss university ETH Zurich, published in the journal Science, showed that a worldwide tree-planting programme could remove two-thirds of all the carbon ever emitted from human activity. According to that research 900 million hectares of unused land could be turned into a forest, potentially absorbing 205 billion tonnes of CO2.
4. Enhanced weathering
Enhanced weathering is another way to slow climate change by which carbon dioxide is separated from the atmosphere through the dissolution of silicate minerals on the land surface. In other words, the ocean alkalinity is increased by depositing rock particles into the ocean. This technology is, however, relatively new and requires more studies to be completed. You can find out more about “The potential of enhanced weathering in the UK” in a study published by P. Renforth in the “International Journal of Greenhouse Gas Control”.