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So Why 'Net-Zero' and Not Just Zero?
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The Adrian Dominican Sisters’ Portfolio Advisory Board works to invest Congregation funds into businesses and programs that align with their Vision and Enactments, which include an emphasis on sustainability. Because of this, they educate themselves and others on measures to assess how well companies are helping to reduce global CO2 emissions in order to reduce global warming.

You may have noticed that numerous companies have announced pledges to reach “net-zero” greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions by mid-century. Companies in a variety of industries, ranging from Delta Airlines to Duke Energy and from Shell Oil to Coca-Cola, have made pledges in the past year. So, what does net-zero emissions mean, and why is this important?

A 2018 report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change noted that for temperatures to stay “well below” 2 degrees with the possibility of staying within 1.5 degrees of warming, global emissions would need to reach “net zero” by mid-century. “Net zero” means that most human-caused emissions are zero and that any remaining emissions are offset by carbon removal through carbon capture and storage or “natural climate solutions” that absorb carbon, such as restoring forests.

With existing technologies, or even those in development, some industries can’t reach zero by 2050. One example is air travel. Until a non-emitting jet fuel or batteries light enough to operate a plane for long distances are available, planes will need to use fossil-based fuel to some degree.

Additionally, for most industries to reach zero, or net zero, by 2050, other industries will need to get to zero more quickly. Many industries will decarbonize by “going electric” (for instance, cars and trucks) and to make that possible, the electric utility sector MUST decarbonize very quickly.

As the result of efforts from investors around the globe, including the Climate Action 100+ initiative, companies in industries including oil and gas, utilities, transportation, banking, and food and beverages have pledged to reach net-zero emissions by 2050.  

More than half of the Climate Action target companies have made a net-zero pledge that covers their scope 1(direct) and scope 2 (purchased electricity) emissions. A quarter of the Climate Action companies have made pledges that also include scope 3 emissions, which are the emissions in their supply chains and the emissions from use of their products.  

Not all company plans are fully developed. Some are just a target. Others include short- and medium-term goals and plans for how they plan to reach them. But this represents a huge step toward ensuring that 1.5 degrees of warming is attainable.

Investors must continue to ask companies for more details and to show action and not just words. The number of pledges will need to continue to grow, and the companies will need to have solid plans, good government policy, and perhaps most importantly, money behind them. Companies and government will also need to support a just transition that helps workers and communities move from fossil fuel jobs and tax revenues to new jobs and industries.

One important note: the energy transition will only happen if the materials to build it are available. Metals including lithium, nickel and cobalt are used in batteries; lightweight steel is needed for electric cars; plant biofuels are one option for replacing some of the jet fuel used in aviation. Investors need to make sure these supply chains, are environmentally sustainable and just. Net Zero is a great start, and progress that we can celebrate, but there’s still a lot to be done!

 

Mary Minette

Mary Minette has served as Director of Shareholder Advocacy for Mercy Investment Services since 2016, focusing on climate change and environmental issues. Previously, she was Director of Environmental Education and Advocacy for the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America.

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Portfolio Advisory Board,  Adrian Dominican Sisters | 1257 E. Siena Heights Drive | Adrian, Michigan 49221
Phone: (517) 266-3523 | Email: