What does net zero emissions mean?

To avoid the worst climate impacts (remember, there are already many impacts happening now!), global greenhouse gas emissions (GHG) will not only need to drop by half in the next 10 years, they will then have to reach net-zero around 2050.⁠

But what does net zero actually mean?⁠

We will achieve net-zero emissions when any remaining anthropogenic (human-caused) GHG emissions are balanced out by removing GHGs from the atmosphere (a process known as carbon removal). Firstly the emissions we cause like those from fossil-fuel run vehicles and factories should be reduced as close to zero as humanly possible. This is a really important point – technology is not going to “save” us and it’s not just immediate emissions. We need to reduce our whole impact – from mined resources, to water usage to land use – as much as possible FIRST.⁠

But, once we’ve doe that for GHGs, any remaining emissions would be balanced with an equivalent amount of carbon removal, for example by restoring forests (ideally) or through direct air capture and storage technology. The concept of net-zero emissions is what people speak to when they refer to “climate neutrality.”⁠

Source: WRI