What does it mean to be carbon neutral?

What does it mean to be carbon neutral?

"Achieving carbon neutrality together. This is the purpose of Traace's mission. And every word counts!

Thomas Guyot

Thomas Guyot


Update :

Why is the hashtag #neutralcarbon popular?

The number of companies aiming for a carbon neutral path has doubled in less than a year, reflecting the importance of climate change issues for companies and investors! But behind these sometimes greenwashing statements, what does carbon neutrality really mean?

The goal of carbon neutrality was popularized in the 2015 Paris Agreement, which called for "achieving the global cap on greenhouse gas emissions as soon as possible." This via achieving "a balance between anthropogenic emissions by sources and anthropogenic removals by sinks of greenhouse gases in the second half of the century." (Thanks for sticking with us!)

More simply, carbon neutrality corresponds to a state of equilibrium between human-induced greenhouse gas emissions and their removal from the atmosphere. This notion is fundamental because achieving carbon neutrality by 2050 at the latest is the only likely scenario for limiting global warming to +1.5°C because of the direct correlation between global warming and greenhouse gas emissions (+1.5°C compared to pre-industrial levels (period 1850-1900), which serves as a reference. In the opinion of all authoritative scientists, in particular the IPCC).

CO2 - Temperature correlation

This is all the more crucial as the impacts of global warming on natural and human systems are already visible: heat waves and related fires, heavy rains and droughts threatening ecosystems, ...

Until then, each delay makes it more difficult to reach this planetary objective as carbon emissions accumulate. It is therefore urgent to act quickly and strongly. Acting quickly and strongly means first and foremost reducing our carbon emissions: -45% vs 2010 by 2030.

Can companies "go carbon neutral"?

By definition, carbon neutrality can only be measured on a global scale, which is why it is important to work TOGETHER on common scenarios by acting each at its own level (States, Companies, Citizens) to achieve these reduction targets, in absolute terms or in terms of intensity (e.g.: tonne of CO2 per product sold). The goal is to ensure that the sum of all these efforts will enable us to stay below 1.5°C of global warming. This is what the SBTi is all about.

(Science Based Target Initiative) and its SBT +1.5°C with sectoral trajectories (Sectoral Decarbonization Approach).

These objectives are sectoral because this reduction of carbon emissions can only be conceived by "value chain": the carbon footprint of a product being the sum of all the emissions emitted to manufacture it, transport it, sell it, use it and then destroy it (or in the best of cases revalue it in a circular system).
This is why a real Bilan Carbone® (see our article ==> What is a real Bilan Carbone®?) of a company includes the upstream and downstream emissions. Hence the need to work TOGETHER with its suppliers and customers to achieve its reduction objectives

Atthe level of an organization, it is better to speak of "contribution to global carbon neutrality" rather than carbon neutrality.

In concrete terms, how can companies "contribute to carbon neutrality"?

On paper, two paths are possible:
1) Reduce the emissions induced by the company's activity
2) Compensate for the emissions induced by avoided or negative emissions (i.e. finance carbon capture projects)

At Traace we focus on the reduction of carbon emissions - the most certain solution - but encourage the financing of solutions to increase carbon sinks while warning about the importance of controlling them.

1. Reduce the emissions induced by its activity

This is the only really effective way to reduce emissions in the long term. It consists in measuring its carbon footprint and then reducing its main sources of emissions (for example, replacing its fuel oil energy with renewable energy, rethinking its purchases - source, type of materials, food, etc. - or reducing its business travel).

This lever must be the fundamental pillar of any strategy towards carbon neutrality, since it is the only approach that makes it possible to:
a. Limit the accumulation of GHGs in the atmosphere
b. Be in line with the objectives of the Paris Agreement
c. Build a business resilient to climate risks and contribute to a future Carbon Neutral economy

2. Offset its induced emissions with avoided & negative emissions

In addition to a reduction strategy, it is possible to compensate for induced emissions with so-called "negative" or "avoided" emissions.

2. a. Avoided emissions

Increasing its avoided emissions consists of marketing low-carbon products and/or services in order to substitute products (with the same use) that generate more GHGs. Thus, by capturing market share, these low-carbon products make it possible to avoid the C02 emissions of more emissive competing solutions (e.g. electric cars vs. combustion engines in France).

2. b. Negative emissions

Negative emissions correspond to the financing of solutions to increase carbon sinks. These solutions, some of which have been the subject of numerous R&D programmes over the last twenty years, are still uncertain. Their widespread use is penalized by numerous constraints:
- High cost in relation to the tons of CO2 stored: 100 to 150 euros per ton of CO2 avoided
- The risk of gas leakage linked to the presence of faults
- The health risk of acidification of the environments where the gas is injected and of contamination of nearby water tables

ADEME considers that the potential of this solution is limited and that it should only be considered as a "last step in a decarbonisation strategy".

3. Adopt a "climate positive" strategy

Finally, we recommend adopting a "climate positive" strategy that is divided into two stages:

i. Define a trajectory towards ambitious carbon neutrality in line with international commitments

ii. At the same time, contribute financially to the development of carbon sinks or C02 capture/sequestration technologies in order to compensate for the emissions that could not be reduced. And thus limit its environmental impact as much as possible during its transition to neutrality.

Carbon capture & storage

In order to build this climate strategy and contribute to global carbon neutrality, we therefore recommend:
1. Measure and monitor emissions
2. Set an ambitious trajectory and objectives
3. Dynamically manage its objectives over time to converge towards carbon neutrality

And of course, Traace can help you!

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