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Zeroing in

3 May, 2024

Has the concept of ‘net zero’ become so politicized in culture wars that we shouldn’t use it anymore? That’s the warning from Chris Stark, the outgoing head of the UK’s climate watchdog. 

According to Stark, the net zero label is hindering progress toward a sustainable economy and better human outcomes, and it would be better if the term is dropped all together. We take a different view. 

First, the term net zero is grounded in scientific research. Studies revealed that global warming could only be halted if carbon dioxide emissions were reduced to net zero. Three years ago, the goal of net zero was written into UK law with the backing of MPs from all sides. “Net zero” recognises that achieving net zero emissions—where the amount of CO2 emitted equals the amount removed—holds the key to mitigating climate change. 

Moreover, changing the term now will cause confusion. Over half of the world’s 2000 largest companies have set net zero targets. They recognise the urgency of addressing climate change and acknowledge the necessity of emission reductions. Net zero isn’t just a buzzword; it represents a commitment backed by science. 

It’s clear the term has become weaponized by a group of people who portray net zero as unaffordable, radical and a threat to our way of life. However, changing the terminology isn’t going to make the debate go away, and it’s unrealistic to think that the way to tackle the critics is to change the language we use. If we abandon the language, that small group will likely take the same approach to whichever other term is adopted. 

While political battles persist, societal acceptance of new concepts takes time. We believe with time net zero will – and is making strong progress to- become the norm. Let’s keep net zero as the hero guiding us toward a sustainable future. 

By Alice Railton

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