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Net Zero, The start, the path, and the goal.

As we accept the need to decarbonise all aspects of our work and home lives, thoughts turn to where we are now, when do our places of work want to get to Net Zero, how we will know we are getting there and, critically, how much it will all cost.

The first step is to have a reliable toolkit to establish our starting line. What are our carbon emissions and what do we need to reduce, remove, or offset in order to reach Net Zero and by when? Such measures, models and toolkits may be difficult to construct, but we cannot reach our target of reducing without knowing what we are starting with.

Of course, setting out an intent to achieve Net Zero ahead of the Government target of 2050 is a strong and positive message but when we set our targets, we need something to measure against. Many initiatives exist so should be revisited, one, the Science Based Targets (SBT) indicate the need to maintain increases in global average temperatures to a 2 degree limit by 2050, and it is a credible and sensible target.

However, when institutions are setting more aggressive targets to achieve Net Zero, in some cases by as early 2030, this makes the SBT a less than viable measure of success. But with few other “real measures” being available, would it not be best to set out on the “marathon” with a pacemaker, especially when we are trying to complete the course in a record breaking time? For this reason, and also because of the wider availability and acceptance of the SBT, should we not at least use them to know whether we are on track to break the course record, limp over the line or, worse still, fail part way around the course.

Of course, the SBT are more broad-brush than are required for any particular organisation, given the impact of energy supply, energy efficiency, on-site generation, and the impact of behaviour. In addition, for organisations with significant transport or other impact outside Scope 1 & 2 emissions, the challenges will be a little different. But how can you set out your plan and the measures needed if you do not benchmark against something? Should there be a consistent approach across our sector?

Finally, the approach to the marathon relies on knowing the course, having a map if you will. There are seldom legitimate short-cuts even if you suspect there are. Starting the race with a map and pacemakers is vital, having made the grand gesture of declaring a climate emergency and an early achievement of Net Zero, how many have one or the other, let alone both tools in place?


This article was written by TEC’s Managing Director Richard Murphy, originally published by EAUC and Green Gown Awards.

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